Scientists are confirming that infant/mother skin-to-skin contact in the first hour after birth has both short-term and long-term consequences. These include everything as far reaching as brain development, mothering, and social behavior patterns. Healthy newborns who are placed skin-to-skin with their mothers immediately after birth show both physical and emotional benefits compared to newborns who were separated for routine care immediately after birth.
The physical benefits include more stability in their respiration, glucose levels, and body temperature. They also have fewer stress hormones and more regulated blood pressure. Additionally, they experience increased brain development over time. On the emotional side, these babies cry significantly less than the babies who are separated from their mothers at birth.
When left skin-to-skin with their mothers, healthy, full term babies demonstrate an instinctive skill to breastfeed without assistance. Researchers have identified that the baby goes through nine observable behaviors within the first hour that lead to the first breastfeeding.
Multiple studies dating back as early as the 1970–1980s compared two groups: Mothers who had at least 15 minutes of skin-to-skin contact with their newborns, and mothers who were only allowed to briefly view their infants. Infants in the second group were taken to a separate nursery and returned to the mother every 4 hours for feeding. At the end of the hospital stay, the mothers with even brief contact with their infants were more confident and comfortable handling and caring for their babies than mothers who had been separated from their babies.
In follow-up studies three months after birth, mothers with early skin-to-skin contact kissed their babies more and spent more time looking into their infant’s faces. At one year they demonstrated more touching, holding, and positive speaking behaviors. They also kept more follow-up appointments with their primary care providers, and they breastfed their babies longer.
Prenatal massage therapists and birth doulas should educate their pregnant clients about the importance of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
To learn more about pregnancy massage, doula labor support, and infant massage, the Institute of Somatic Therapy offers a variety of continuing education courses. Visit https://www.massagecredits.com/pages/course_listing.php?SB=22&CAT=12.