You've probably heard of "kangaroo care" for premature babies. You hold tiny babies against your skin to help them grow and develop. But did you know that skin to skin contact benefits babies of all ages? Even your healthy newborn will benefit from kangaroo care!
Improving Your Baby's Health
Little ones are very immature in many ways. Their temperature regulation isn't great, which is why it's so important to keep babies warm. They don't breathe completely regularly yet. A newborn's nervous system is still developing.
Luckily, all of these things are helped by keeping your little one skin-to-skin. Your own temperature and breathing actually help your baby to regulate his or hers! As your little one is against your skin, he or she will feel you breathe. This has been proven to help a baby modify his or her own breathing pattern to match yours. Babies who sleep in their parent's arms and on their chests actually begin to breathe along with them.
The same is true with temperature. Your baby's temperature will fluctuate up and down with the weather far more easily than yours. This is why premature babies have such a hard time and need to be in a warming cradle. It's also why doctors put even full-term newborns into a warming cradle.
A healthy, full-term baby doesn't need this treatment, however. If you put your newborn or older baby on your chest skin to skin, then cover both of you with a blanket your baby will be nice and warm. Your temperature helps your baby's body reach the correct temperature and stay there.
Your baby's nervous system is also soothed and regulated by being close to you. Immature pathways begin to mature and impulses start to fire in predictable ways when your baby feels secure and takes his or her cues from your own body.
In addition to the health benefits your baby receives from being close to you, you will also increase your bond with your baby. Babies have been cradled in the womb for nine months. They're used to hearing your heart beat and hearing you breathe. The gentle, natural rhythm of your body is soothing to your baby.
Your baby will be comforted by enjoying these same rhythms after birth, as well. Your baby likes being against your chest, hearing your heart beat and feeling the gentle rise of your lungs.
Babies and children love routine and rhythm. You can first create a secure routine for your child by holding him or her close to you and continuing the soothing experience of heartbeats and breathing. Your warm skin and familiar smell are also soothing to your baby.
As your baby learns that you are a source of comfort that can be trusted, he or she grows more and more attached to you.
Skin to Skin Helps You
The benefits of skin contact are not just for your baby. You as a parent will find many benefits, too. Holding a baby skin to skin brings strong hormonal responses from your body. Mothers tend to feel deep rushes of love and attachment for their babies. Fathers feel a strong need to protect and care for their baby (and the baby's mother). These hormonal processes are built into humans and they're important for helping you bond with your baby and helping to prevent problems like depression.
Many modern practices, like taking a baby away right after birth, strollers, and cribs in separate rooms tend to disrupt the normal flow of hormones and pattern of bonding between parent and child. You can overcome these things by making different choices and taking the time to hold and cuddle with your baby.
Baby skin is also soft and silky, and babies smell pleasant. We as humans are hard-wired to find joy in these things and really get attached to our babies. Hold your baby close to you -- both you and your baby will love it.