Helping to Get Breastfeeding Off to a Good Start: Skin-to-Skin Contact
Rita Brhel, Hastings, Nebraska
After years of supporting mothers at all stages of breastfeeding, I’ve learned that there are four key areas to focus on to help mothers get breastfeeding off to a good start: milk supply, latch, frequent access to the breast, and skin-to-skin contact. In this post, let’s explore the value of skin-to-skin contact.
I alluded to skin-to-skin contact in a previous post about frequent access to the breast, that baby requires physical closeness to the mother for healthy development. Breastfeeding provides skin-to-skin contact between baby and mother. The more, the better!
All nurturing touch between humans produces a hormone in the bodies of those involved called oxytocin, or aptly, “the love hormone.” Among its many benefits, oxytocin helps us to feel relaxed. It also greatly helps mothers and babies with bonding.
Skin-to-skin is done by undressing baby to the diaper and placing on mother’s bare chest. A version of this happens with kangaroo care for premature or ill babies, as it helps baby better regulate body temperature, heart rate, breathing patterns, and other body functions that improve development. Not only does skin-to-skin contact help with bonding between healthy, full-term newborns and their mothers, but oxytocin also boosts milk-making hormones and encourages baby to latch.
Skin-to-skin contact is promoted quite often in hospitals, but it’s important to continue providing it at home, too—especially when a baby is having trouble with latch
, or is too sleepy to wake for feedings, or when a mother needs to increase her supply.
Nurturing touch beyond skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding—such as through baby wearing, and being held in arms, also is incredibly important to healthy infant development, even with a baby who has a good latch, whose mother has a good milk supply, and whose newborn period doesn’t seem to have any challenges to breastfeeding. Babies benefit from being held, and breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact support baby’s needs.
Read more about skin-to-skin contact and kangaroo care on the LLLI website at www.llli.org/faq/premkangaroo.html.
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