Study: Skin-To-Skin After Birth Could Make Dads More Involved Parents

Moms are encouraged to engage in skin-to-skin contact with their newborns within moments of their arrival and the practice has a slew of benefits. But mothers aren't the only ones who should be cozying up to their little ones. A recent study shows just how important it is for dads to participate in skin-to-skin. The hormonal boost that they receive from these cuddles could make them better caregivers.

A team of researchers from the University of Notre Dame looked at how dads' biology around the time of their children's birth affects their parenting, according to Science Daily. Dame Assistant Professor of Anthropology Lee Gettler and lead author Patty Kuo teamed up with Notre Dame psychologists and Memorial Hospital of South Bend to analyze testosterone and cortisol in 298 men on the first two days of their newborns' lives.

The study, published in the journal Hormones and Behavior, found that dads with elevated cortisol levels while holding their infants, such as during skin-to-skin, were more likely to be involved with caring for and playing with their infants during the first months of their lives. Nurses at Memorial Hospital collected saliva samples from the fathers roughly an hour after their children's birth in order to gauge their hormone levels. While the hospital is not directly connected to the hospital, the nurses told Science Daily that they were glad to participate, as the study is in line with their beliefs about the importance of skin-to-skin.

Gettler explained to Science Daily this study exemplifies the importance of fathers' presence at birth and engagement thereafter:

What we see in the special days around birth is that dads' hormones -- how much dads are producing overall and how their hormones quickly change when they hold their newborns -- are linked to what fathers are doing months later. This relates to how men establish bonds with their newborns as well as with their partners and how they will co-parent.

In similar research, Dr. Nils Bergman examined the importance of skin-to-skin for fathers. His findings, presented at the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, suggested that kangaroo care actually rewires dads' brains. Just 30 minutes of skin-to-skin time with their babies causes a rise other important hormones: dopamine and oxytocin, according to Baby Belly. These hormonal changes create a positive association with close interaction with their babies in fathers' brains. Therefore, skin-to-skin could help fathers kickstart their parenting instincts.

Aside from hormonal boosts, skin-to-skin contact with dads also empowers them to care for their children, facilitates emotional healing, and enables them to read babies' hunger cues, according to Belly Baby. Considering all of the ways in which kangaroo care benefits fathers and babies, families should make it a priority following birth.

When writing for Pregnancy and Baby, Sharon Muza, BS, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE, outlined how parents can do so. She recommends making use of the time when mom is away from baby immediately after birth, such as going to the restroom or showering:

This is the ideal time for her partner to settle in to a comfortable chair and get to know his newborn. He should choose a cozy location — ideally a rocking chair, if available — and have a few pillows handy, including one behind dad’s back. After being seated, have dad take off his shirt and keep baby dressed in just a diaper. Have a few warm, soft blankets ready to cover the baby with.

From there, dad places the baby so that they are chest-to-chest, supporting baby with two hands and covering them both in a blanket. The two can stay like that for a while, letting the bond grow. Muza also explained that in some instances, moms may not be able or willing to hold their newborn immediately after birth:

In some cases, mom may not be able or want to hold her newborn immediately after birth. If this is the case, partner’s chest is the perfect place for the baby to wait until mom is ready and able to snuggle with her baby. Baby will appreciate the sounds and sensations of being held by her father, and quickly settle down.

As important as it is for mothers and babies to bond, dads are key too. Studies such as Gettler and Kuo's play an important role in bringing dads' roles to the forefront.