The benefits of touch for babies, parents

by Julie Greicius
Skin-to-skin time in the first hour after birth helps regulate the babies' temperature, heart rate, and breathing, and helps them cry less. It also increases mothers' relaxation hormones. Credit: iStockphoto

For babies, the nine months of pregnancy may feel like one long, loving embrace. It's not surprising, then, that studies support the benefits of skin-to-skin contact for mothers and babies from the moment of birth, throughout infancy and beyond.

Experts at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital recommend that expectant mothers incorporate immediate skin-to-skin contact with their babies as part of their birth plan.

"Even for babies born by cesarean section, skin-to-skin time right after delivery can be a wonderful, strong start for both mother and baby," said Susan Crowe, MD, director of outpatient breastfeeding at Packard Children's.

When the health of mom and baby allows, postponing the normal protocol of bathing, weighing and testing the baby can clear the way for shared skin-to-skin time.

"During this time, babies experience nine instinctive stages: birth cry, relaxation, awakening, activity, resting, 'crawling' (a shifting movement toward the breast), familiarization, suckling, and sleep," said Crowe, who's also a clinical assistant professor of at the School of Medicine. "For a mother who desires to breastfeed, supporting skin-to-skin time is one way we can help her reach that goal."

Depending on each mother's birth plan and medical needs, skin-to-skin time with baby offers benefits, whether the baby was born vaginally or by cesarean section, whether it happens in the first hour or when mom is medically ready, and whether or not she is breastfeeding. Skin-to-skin time in the first hour helps regulate babies' temperature, , and breathing, and helps them cry less. It also increases mothers' relaxation hormones.

A 2012 study published in the journal Neonatology showed that 95 percent of mothers who spent skin-to-skin time were breastfeeding exclusively 48 hours after delivery, and 90 percent were still breastfeeding exclusively six weeks later.

Babies and mothers with special medical needs also benefit from skin-to-skin time, when it becomes medically possible. In the meantime—and beyond that point as well—the mother's partner can provide skin-to-skin time with baby, which can help keep baby warm and provide bonding time.

As babies grow, infant massage provides a natural next step to continue this bond and its benefits. "Infant massage is always about bonding, loving and respect," said Maureen McCaffrey, a certified infant massage instructor at Packard Children's. "We start by asking permission, and then listen for the baby's cues to see if they're engaging or disengaging. Babies communicate with us from the moment they're born through body language, sound and behavior."

In her classroom, McCaffrey sets up a nurturing environment that's an easy, safe and relaxing example to parents. "The environment is very important. Parents can begin to feel the benefits just by setting up a quiet, relaxing space where massage will take place," she said.

McCaffrey teaches a variety of infant massage techniques tailored to the unique needs of babies and families and focuses on the shared benefits. Following is just a sampling of benefits that infant massage can provide:

  • Enhance babies' awareness of being loved, accepted and safe.
  • Improve sleep patterns for babies.
  • Improve digestion and elimination for babies.
  • Reduce fussiness for babies and increase their comfort in their environment.
  • Improve neurological function in babies.
  • Increase weight gain for premature and full-term babies.
  • Increase lactation production for mothers.
  • Reduce postpartum depression for mothers.
  • Improve relaxation for both baby and parents.

From the first cuddle to the lasting bond, and parents can benefit enormously from learning their "first language"—touch—creating a strong start toward a lifetime of nurturing affection and good health.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

CDC: Breastfeeding rates increasing in US

Aug 01, 2013

(HealthDay)—More than three-quarters of infants begin breastfeeding, and rates at six and 12 months have increased since 2000, according to a report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and ...

Maternal separation stresses the baby

Nov 02, 2011

A woman goes into labor, and gives birth. The newborn is swaddled and placed to sleep in a nearby bassinet, or taken to the hospital nursery so that the mother can rest. Despite this common practice, new research published ...

Fast-acting mothers' milk for healthier babies

May 23, 2013

Human breastmilk responds quickly to protect the child when there is an infection in mothers or babies, according to new international research led by The University of Western Australia.

Recommended for you

Most kids eat fruit, veggies daily: CDC

Jul 16, 2014

(HealthDay)—More than three-quarters of U.S. children eat fruit on any given day, and nearly 92 percent dig into vegetables in a 24-hour period, a new U.S. health survey reveals.

New statement on 'PEG' feeding tubes in children published

Jul 15, 2014

Placement of a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube has become an "essential" technique for children and young people with a wide range of problems with feeding and nutrition, according to a position statement in the ...

Bed-sharing linked to SIDS

Jul 14, 2014

(HealthDay)—Risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) appear to change with the age of the infant, researchers say.

User comments