The Magic of Skin-to-Skin on Breastfeeding
You've heard that holding your newborn skin-to-skin is good for your baby, right? Also called “kangaroo care”, skin-to-skin care was originally developed in 1978 as a desperate move to save premature babies in resource-poor hospitals that lacked enough incubators.
Over the years however, research has shown that skin-to-skin care benefits healthy, full-term babies as well; improving their respiration, heart rate, temperature, blood sugar levels, immunity, and ability to self-attach at the breast. You might know that babies held skin-to-skin cry less, breastfeed better, have lowered stress hormone levels, and have a lowered risk of infection.
Maybe you've also heard the amazing fact that when holding a baby skin-to-skin, your breasts will actually increase or decrease in temperature in response to your baby’s temperature, more efficiently than a warmer can. And this fact is just too amazing not to share: the breasts of a mom of twins holding one baby on each breast will adjust independently to maintain each baby's temperature.
Maybe you did know all that, but did you know that snuggling up skin-to-skin is also a great way to increase your milk supply? Research has shown that holding your baby skin-to-skin helps to increase milk volume by increasing your levels of the milk-making hormone oxytocin—the hormone responsible for milk ejection. Oxytocin is nicknamed “the love hormone,” and your levels increase when you snuggle up skin-to-skin.
In addition, holding your baby skin-to-skin primes your baby to nurse. Your baby can smell your milk and feel your skin, making her more likely to seek out your breasts. And as you know, increased demand translates into increased supply, which may be why early skin-to-skin contact is associated with a longer duration of exclusive breastfeeding.
This is also why moms are sometimes advised to take a “babymoon” (spending as much time skin-to-skin as possible for a few days) if they find that their supply has dipped. For example, a mom who has returned to work and found that pumping hasn't been able to fully sustain her supply can spend some time over the weekend doing skin-to-skin to give her supply a boost.
How do you do skin-to-skin? It’s easy! Hold your baby, dressed only in a diaper, upright between your breasts, with a blanket over you if needed. Then relax and let nature do her magic. Even if you didn’t get a chance to initiate skin-to-skin at birth, doing this simple care is so therapeutic, your baby will never outgrow its benefits. And it is also something that dads, or even older siblings can easily participate in, as it helps to establish a more loving bond with that new family member.