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Skin-To-Skin Contact Is Healthy For Mothers And Their Babies

One of the reasons why my wife and I decided to have a home birth was to ensure that our baby would go straight where he belonged as soon as he entered the world: to my wife's chest. It saddens me to know that providing newborn babies with immediate physical contact with their mothers is not always given the priority it deserves in today's health care system.

There is already plenty of evidence in the medical literature that indicates how important physical touch is for health. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics provides strong evidence that skin-to-skin contact is essential to the well being of both a new born baby and his or her mother.

Researchers at University Hospital in Linköping, Sweden studied stress levels of seventeen mother-infant pairs, with all infants being preterm - between 25 to 33 weeks old. In mothers, stress was measured using salivary cortisol levels, heart rate, mood scale, and a visual analog scale (VAS). In infants, stress was measured using salivary cortisol levels and heart rate. Infants were also measured for pain levels using two separate scales.

Mothers and their babies showed signs of significant stress before physical contact. Also before physical contact, mothers reported experiencing low mood, especially low levels of calmness, control, and pleasantness.

Following pre-contact, initial stress tests, mothers changed into gowns with the front side open. Each baby was taken from an incubator and placed gently on his or her mother's chest in an upright position while wearing only a cap and a diaper. Each baby was then placed inside his or her mother's gown. Extra blankets were placed on top. While babies laid in this position, mothers were given mirrors with which they could watch their babies while they laid together. In all cases, fathers were very close, sitting on a chair.

What were the results?

Upon beginning skin-to-skin contact with their mothers, babies experienced decreased heart rates and pain scores. Mothers experienced decreased salivary cortisol levels (by 32 percent), decreased heart rate (by 7 percent), decreased VAS score (by 89 percent), and increased mood (by 6 percent).

Hopefully, there aren't too many people out there who need to read this kind of study to understand the importance of spending plenty of time with their babies and enjoying lots of skin-to-skin contact. Studies like this one are useful, but really shouldn't be necessary to prompt all of us to provide our babies with lots of attention and physical affection.


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