Over the years, modern birth methods have changed how newborns and mothers interact with each other. Typically, the baby is cleaned up and wrapped in a blanket then given to the mother to hold. A new scientific review suggests that skin-to-skin contact is better for the mother and gives her infant a better start in life.
The review noted that women who had skin-to-skin contact with their naked babies soon after delivery were more likely to breastfeed longer and be breastfeeding months later than women who didn't have their babies placed on their skin right away.
"The more you can do to place the mother and baby together and disturb them as little possible during that first hour, the better off they’ll be," said lead author Elizabeth Moore, of the School of Nursing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Researchers looked through medical literature and found 46 randomized controlled trials to include in their review. The trials included 3,850 women and their newborns from 21 countries. All babies were healthy and most were born at term.
"We compared those trials to usual care, and usual care was very different depending on the trial," said Moore. Trials from the 1970s may have separated mothers from their babies for hours. In more modern trials, babies might be swaddled in a blanket before being handed to the mother.
Moore and her team found evidence that babies who had received skin-to-skin contact were more likely to breastfeed successfully during their very first breastfeeding session, and they also tended to have higher blood glucose levels and stronger heart and lung function.
“It’s just something that if at all possible should happen," Moore told Reuters Health.
Skin-to-skin contact should begin as soon as possible and last for at least 60 minutes, she said. The hour will give babies time to recover from the birthing experience, find the mother's nipple and latch on.
"It’s not something you can do in just 15 minutes," Moore said.
Not all physicians and hospitals are on board when it comes to immediate skin-to-skin contact after birth.
“I would recommend that a woman make sure she adds skin-to-skin to her birth plan," Moore said. "I think it’s a really good thing for a woman to put together a birth plan before she heads to the hospital and show it to her physicians or midwife."
What if your baby is premature or is delivered by cesarean? The researchers didn't find any benefits to initiating skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth versus after the baby had been examined and washed. They also failed to find any clear benefits to skin-to-skin contact that lasted longer than an hour.
"The evidence supports that early [skin-to-skin contact] should be normal practice for healthy newborns," the researchers wrote, "including those born by cesarean and babies born early at 35 weeks or more."
The review was published in the Cochrane Library in November.
Story sources: Andrew M. Seaman, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-birth-skin-idUSKBN13V2UZ