The simplest way to bond with your baby? Skin to skin

Skin to skin contact with your baby has been proven to help with bonding and reduce the risk of postnatal depression and anxiety (for both parents). But how do you incorporate it into your every day life? We asked our readers – and their answers were quite beautiful…

If you attended antenatal classes (at the hospital, or NCT) you probably know that after giving birth, it’s important for the mother and baby to have skin to skin contact. So the baby might be naked, or in a nappy, and the mother’s chest bare. It can help with bonding and establishing breastfeeding.

With my firstborn, who arrived slap bang in the middle of a heatwave, we were almost constantly naked, in a darkened room, with the fan purring away. We’d lie together – her suckling, both of us dozing…  it was wonderful. Breastfeeding happened easily. She rarely cried.

But with my second baby, born in January – I was worried that he’d get cold in our draughty house if I took all his clothes off. So we had less skin to skin contact. It’s only now that I realise this is possibly what contributed to breastfeeding being much harder to establish, more tears (from us both) and it all being a lot less calm in those early days.

When Albie was hysterical with wind issues, I would take my top off and strip him to just his nappy, he would often stop crying and would calm down much faster

Many parents, like me, don’t realise that skin to skin isn’t just for that ‘golden hour’ after the birth. It can – and should – be continued at home. It’s a simple and effective technique that offers natural comfort to babies in the weeks following birth.

In fact, research carried out by WaterWipes shows that over two thirds (62%) of parents were not given information on how to use skin to skin at home, either before or after they had their baby, resulting in 57% not bringing it into their homes. 

It cuts the risk of postnatal depression for the mother and can reduce both parents’ stress and anxiety levels

If you’re not sure it’s necessary, here are some of the benefits…

As well as helping you to bond with your baby, skin to skin will activate the amygdala, which helps a baby’s brain to mature. This is important for his emotional learning, memory and nervous system.

It also cuts the risk of postnatal depression for the mother and can reduce both parents’ stress and anxiety levels. This type of physical contact lowers the baby’s cortisol levels (the stress hormone), meaning he cries less – and so the parents won’t have to deal with the trauma of non-stop tears.

Lastly, it makes breastfeeding easier, as it helps babies to latch on and suckle. Also, mothers who practise skin to skin find they can express more milk. This could be due to the fact that skin to skin triggers the release of the so-called ‘love hormone’, oxytocin, which boosts the production of breastmilk.

If you’re not already persuaded, check out this really short film – it’s quite a beautiful (scientific) illustration of the effects of skin to skin on a young baby. And then read some moving, funny and enlightening accounts of how The Early Hour readers incorporate skin to skin into their every day lives…

The Early Hour readers on skin to skin

Lauren: “I struggled with breastfeeding at the beginning but persevered. Skin-on-skin really helped to get breastfeeding established. We did it mainly in the morning but sometimes in the day too, if I had a nap with him. It is hard, though, when you want to make sure they are warm enough. We kept our house nice and toasty throughout the early days, apart from at night time as we all slept better if it was slightly cooler. I walked around topless most of the time – even when we had visitors – I didn’t care what they thought.”

Naomi: “Born in Feb. Wrapped her in Jack’s enormous dressing gown and we both had her cuddled skin to skin constantly. Was lovely.”

Simona: “My son was born in theatre after a forceps delivery and the midwives swaddled him up before passing him to me. I was too worried to get him naked, as it was a cold February day. It was only when I got home that I started to do it more… very tentatively at first and constantly worrying about the cold! I felt so close to him straight away, so I don’t know if it added to it. I don’t feel like I did enough though and often think that with number two I want to do more, and from the very beginning.”

A wise midwife told me last summer that skin to skin cools baby down if too hot. Weirdly I found it cooled me down too!

Juliet: “During winter I used to put my youngest in just a nappy but in the sling and take my top off but wrap a big, warm dressing gown around the two of us. I could make sure we were close, warm and I could get stuff done. Now I have to wait till both of them ask for a cuddle. Glad I made the most of it while I could. Also in Australia if after birth mum can’t do skin to skin then dads are given the option as research has proven that although mum is best, dads are hugely beneficial at helping to regulate a new baby’s body temp, breathing patterns and heartbeat. #kangaroocarebaby.”

Claire: “Did loads of skin to skin with my daughter – another heatwave baby! Couldn’t breastfeed my son but did loads of skin to skin, and my husband religiously did some every single day – so, so lovely for them both.”

Anya: “I used to wear my second baby, skin to skin, in a sling – either undo my top completely or if we weren’t going out just not wearing anything under the sling – so even if running after my toddler I still had the oxytocin goin’ on… I had a traumatic birth first time round and no skin to skin for 10 hours. Then the newborn months were generally fraught although I did skin to skin as much as possible and it definitely helped calm him. With my second it was more practicality: once I learned to boob feed in the sling it was actually just easier to keep him kangaroo-style pretty much at all times while running after the 3yo…”

I remember having lots of skin to skin after he was born, that first poo (forgot what’s called) was all over my belly

Sophie: “Managed lots more skin to skin with my second than my first but it helped no 2 was a summer baby. No 1 was born in the winter, I regretted not having enough skin to skin with him, we were lucky to breastfeed pretty easily though. Good tip for new mamas in this heat is to do skin to skin lots – a wise midwife told me last summer it cools baby down if too hot. Weirdly I found it cooled me down too!”

Danni: “I spent the first 24 hours in hospital with my son against my chest, both of us wrapped in a blanket. It really was special, it totally took away the stress of being in hospital. I literally didn’t notice the hard uncomfortable examination bed (a very busy night, they had no beds for us!) they had me on, the buzz of monitors and the groans of women giving birth. I was in my own little bubble. I think that contact was really important for my confidence as a mother and his confidence to feed and trust me. I wouldn’t change that night in any way… even the crappy hospital meal! I carried it on as much as I could through the next weeks and my partner loved doing it too. At times, when Albie was hysterical with wind issues, I would take my top off and strip him to just his nappy, he would often stop crying and would calm down much faster like that. I really believe in the value of skin to skin!”

Maria: “I remember having lots of skin to skin after he was born, that first poo (forgot what’s called) was all over my belly. And then while the midwife was putting in a few stitches he found his way and started breastfeeding. I don’t remember much after that…”

Alissa: “My daughter spent her first ten hours on this earth in the NICU. I was allowed some time to hold her and try breastfeeding whilst she was there – miraculously she latched straight away. When they finally brought her back to me around midnight I was beyond exhausted but I kept her naked and snugged up on my chest all night. Nurses kept coming in and offering to take her but there was no way I was letting her go. I so clearly remember the sun coming up over the city that morning, my husband was sleeping by the window and my daughter was on my chest. I could hardly see I was so tired but I felt so peaceful. I also gave birth in an NYC heatwave so we were both pretty much naked for the next three months. At most a light muslin blanket over her. It was a booby summer over at ours.”

This article was written in conjunction with WaterWipes, as part of their #PureLove campaign. If you’d like to share your thoughts about the video above – or anything skin to skin related – you can reach them on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.