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The Importance of Skin-to-Skin Contact

Written by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC   
Monday, 01 December 2008 00:00
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There are now a multitude of studies that show that mothers and babies should be together, skin-to-skin (baby naked, not wrapped in a blanket) immediately after birth, as well as later.

The baby is happier; the baby’s temperature, heart, and breathing rates are more stable and normal; and the baby’s blood sugar is elevated. In addition, skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth allows the baby to be colonized by the same bacteria as the mother. This, plus breastfeeding, are thought to be important in the prevention of allergic diseases. When a baby is put into an incubator, his skin and gut are often colonized by bacteria different from his mother’s.

There are now a multitude of studies that show that mothers and babies should be together, skin-to-skin (baby naked, not wrapped in a blanket) immediately after birth, as well as later.


The baby is happier; the baby’s temperature, heart, and breathing rates are more stable and normal; and the baby’s blood sugar is elevated. In addition, skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth allows the baby to be colonized by the same bacteria as the mother. This, plus breastfeeding, are thought to be important in the prevention of allergic diseases. When a baby is put into an incubator, his skin and gut are often colonized by bacteria different from his mother’s.

To recap, skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth for at least an hour has the following positive effects on babies:

  • more likely to latch on

  • more likely to latch on well

  • more stable and normal skin temperatures

  • more stable and normal heart rates and blood pressures

  • higher blood sugars

  • less likely to cry

  • more likely to breastfeed exclusively longer

There is no reason that the vast majority of babies cannot be skin-to-skin with the mother immediately after birth for at least an hour. Hospital routines, such as weighing the baby, should not take precedence.

The baby should be dried off and put on the mother. Nobody should be pushing the baby to do anything; nobody should be trying to help the baby latch on during this time. The mother, of course, may make some attempts to help the baby, and this should not be discouraged. The mother and baby should just be left in peace to enjoy each other’s company. The mother and baby should not be left alone, however, especially if the mother has received medication, and it is important that not only the mother’s partner, but also a nurse, midwife, doula, or physician stay with them—occasionally, some babies do need medical help and someone qualified should be there “just in case.” The eye drops and the injection of vitamin K can wait a couple of hours. Immediate skin-to-skin contact can also be done after cæsarean section, even while the mother is getting stitched up, unless there are medical reasons which prevent it.