What is skin-to-skin contact? Skin-to-skin, also called Kangaroo Care or Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), is holding a baby bare chest to bare chest. It helps newborns adjust to being outside the womb. It is ideally done immediately after the birth and as much as you can during the first few days of life. Skin-to-skin can be done by both mother and father. It is especially useful for dad to hold his baby this way if mother is unavailable because of medical procedures.
How do I do skin-to-skin? Take off your bra and have your baby in only a diaper. Place your baby's chest against your bare chest between your breasts. Place a cover over her back. You can also try wearing an oversized shirt and use this to cover her. Let your baby stay on your chest for at least an hour. If she starts to bob around and look for your breast, follow your instincts to help her latch on. Babies benefit from remaining skin-to-skin beyond the first breastfeed, so take every opportunity to hold her this way.
How will skin-to-skin help me? Skin-to-skin will help you learn your baby's cues. It will also increase the level of prolactin you produce. Prolactin is a hormone responsible for helping your body to make milk. Many mothers find that latching their babies is easier when they are held skin-to-skin. It can also calm a fussy baby. If you are unable to breastfeed because your baby is sick or premature, you will have to express your milk. Holding your baby skin-to-skin helps your body make more milk.
Why is skin-to-skin good for babies? It helps regulate the baby's temperature, breathing, heart rate and sugar levels. It also calms the baby so he doesn't get stressed out or cry a lot. It is easier for many babies to latch on to the breast when held skin-to-skin. It is good for both full term and premature babies.
For how long should skin-to-skin continue? The mother's body is the baby's habitat. During the first few weeks skin-to-skin can be done often or even continuously. There is no age at which skin-to-skin is no longer recommended.
Can I really do Kangaroo Care (skin-to-skin) with my tiny premature baby? Yes. If you are able to hold your baby, you can do skin-to-skin. Tiny babies on breathing machines, IVs, and heart monitors can often be held skin-to-skin. In fact, they often do better in this position: their heart rate, breathing and temperature are more stable. NICU staff using this type of progressive care will be able to help you hold your baby effectively. Just ask. See Kangaroo Mother Care for more information.
LLLC congratulates the Calgary Breastfeeding Matters Group for their bus ad campaign promoting skin-to-skin baby care. Take a look.
If you have questions about skin-to-skin baby care and/or about getting breastfeeding off to a good start please contact a La Leche League Canada Leader.