Healthy Living in the North

Why skin-to-skin care is important for your baby’s well-being

Have you ever thought about having your baby skin-to-skin with you after birth and in the first few weeks after birth? Many parents have never thought about holding their baby skin-to-skin until they are pregnant and skin-to-skin is mentioned as an option right after birth. Often the reaction at that time is “Yuck. Can you at least dry the baby off first?”

Most of us don’t think about the millions and millions of bugs (flora) that are on and in our body until we are asked about skin-to-skin. However, this flora, making up our own unique ecosystems, is absolutely essential for health and well-being. So how does a baby acquire flora?

mother holding breastfeeding baby

Babies need repeated doses of skin-to-skin to help develop a healthy body ecosystem.

Babies come out of a relatively sterile environment so they need to be colonized by healthy bugs, rather than ones that can cause them to get sick. Most babies delivered vaginally get a healthy dose of good bugs during the delivery process, although this is just some of the flora they need. Babies born via caesarean section are less likely to get these bugs and more likely to pick up other ones from their surroundings.

Developing a healthy range of good bugs is important for all babies. One of the easiest ways for babies to get a range of healthy flora is from being skin-to-skin with a parent right after birth. If parents are not available, then other family members work almost as well, as families share many bugs in common. Spending time skin-to-skin right after birth is important but it is also important in the days and weeks after birth as babies need repeated doses of skin-to-skin to help develop a healthy body ecosystem.

Spending time skin-to-skin is not just about introduction to healthy bugs; here are some other benefits:

  • Skin-to-skin helps babies maintain their temperature.
  • Skin-to-skin helps maintain adequate sugar levels in their bloodstream.
  • Skin-to-skin helps develop normal breathing patterns quicker after birth.
  • Babies cry less often if they spend time skin-to-skin.
  • Babies often breastfeed better if they spend time skin-to-skin. For babies who are not breastfeeding, spending time skin-to-skin is particularly helpful because they cannot pick up a parent’s flora as easily as they are usually not right against a parent’s skin like babies who breastfeed.

We encourage you to think about spending time skin-to-skin with your baby so your baby can develop a healthy body ecosystem at the same time as you get to know your baby.

About Jane Ritchey

Jane Ritchey was previously the Interim Executive Lead for the Perinatal Program. (Jane has recently retired from Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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