According to a new scientific review of existing research, skin-to-skin contact after birth aids babies and mothers alike. The review, published by the Cochrane Library, found that moms who had skin-to-skin contact with their babies soon after birth typically breastfed for about 60 days longer than moms who didn't receive skin-to-skin contact, and they were more likely to be breastfeeding several months after giving birth. These mothers were also more likely to breastfeed exclusively after leaving the hospital.
The researchers analyzed 46 different trials (encompassing 3,850 mothers and their children) in order to draw their conclusions. They 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 important to note, however, that the researchers found only low- to moderate-quality evidence for several of these findings, since participants knew they were being studied, mothers had varying levels of breastfeeding support, and several of the studies used a small number of participants. Still, the review's findings did reinforce earlier links seen between early skin-to-skin contact and babies' and mothers' health. As the study's lead author, Elizabeth Moore, told Reuters:
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.
For best results, skin-t0-skin contact should begin as soon as possible after birth, and last for at least an hour. The contact could help babies keep warm and calm after birth, the review suggested, helping them ease into life outside the womb, although that's an area that will require more research. Spending an hour together could help babies find their mothers' nipples and begin breastfeeding, too, according to Reuters.
For those who'd prefer cuddling up to a slightly cleaner baby, no worries! 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."
Early skin-to-skin contact may not be the norm everywhere yet, but it's clearly helpful for both mothers and their newborns. If it's not your doctor's standard approach (or you're not sure either way) but you'd like to get that important one-on-one time with your newborn, make sure to talk to your physician before your due date arrives.