Emotional stability

There is, perhaps, no human sensation more important than touch. From the moment a baby is born, one of the first things doctors do is lay the child on the mother’s chest for skin-to-skin contact. “Kangaroo care” has proven to be effective in helping premature babies thrive1, and even among adults, touch has been shown to have surprising benefits — research has shown that hugs are effective in reducing stress, protecting them from infectious diseases2. Knowing this, what benefits does skin-to-skin contact have for your child? Are there also benefits to strengthen the immune system? And what effect does touch have on early child development and emotional stability?

What Is Skin-to-Skin Contact or Kangaroo Care?

Skin-to-skin contact is simply the practice of holding a baby so that mother and child are in contact with each other through their skin. This is particularly important in the first hours of a newborn’s life, as it has been found to help them adapt to life outside the womb3.

Sometimes called “kangaroo care”, referring to how mother kangaroos and their joeys are constantly in close contact, skin-to-skin contact is not exclusively for newborns or premature babies. Full-term babies and older children can also enjoy many benefits — from physical and mental development to greater emotional stability.

The Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact for Babies

The benefits of skin-to-skin contact for premature babies has been well-documented, making it an essential part of newborn baby care. Kangaroo care is used as an alternative to incubators in locations with limited resources. Preterm babies who receive kangaroo care are better able to maintain a healthy body temperature. They also display increased cardiorespiratory stability compared to Babies who receive standard care (through an incubator, radiant warmer or open crib)4.

Aside from regulating temperature and breathing patterns, skin-to-skin contact has many more benefits in taking care of newborn babies5:

  • It improves immunity. Mums pass on antibodies to the baby through the skin, making it a great way to strengthen the immune system.

  • It lowers stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is lower after just 20 minutes of contact.

  • Babies sleep better. Through skin-to-skin contact, babies enter deep sleep, called quiet sleep, more easily.

Health Benefits for Mums — and Dads!

Skin-to-skin contact has benefits for mums — and dads — as well.

When mums practice kangaroo care, their oxytocin levels increase, reducing blood pressure and lowering stress levels. What’s more, kangaroo care has been found to reduce maternal depression6.

Fathers can practice kangaroo care too. One study found that kangaroo care was just as effective when dads performed it as when mothers did7. Plus, dads were able to have the parent-child bonding and intimacy that skin-to-skin contact encourages and experience an increase in parental confidence as a result.

The Role of Skin-to-Skin Contact in Encouraging a Child's Emotional Stability

Beyond life-saving benefits during infancy, kangaroo care has proved to have long-lasting effects. A study by Charpak et al from Pediatrics found that after 20 years, children who received kangaroo care “had less aggressive drive and were less impulsive and hyperactive” and exhibited less antisocial behavior8.

Simply put, the parent-child bond that begins with skin-to-skin contact creates emotional stability for the child. Another study found that children who lacked attachment to their parents performed more poorly in school compared to children with secure attachments. And skin-to-skin contact is an effective way to form these attachments early in a child’s life5.

How to Take Care of Newborn Baby and Practice Skin-to-Skin Contact

Kangaroo care comes naturally. Most mothers will instinctively want to hold their newborn child to their chest. Because this plays an important role in the regulation of a newborn’s temperature, make sure you do this in the first 2 hours of your child’s life9. Many hospitals and clinics practice this as part of their regular procedure.

Even after the days following delivery, you can continue to practice skin-to-skin contact. The more you practice kangaroo care, the better. This will allow you to continue nurturing that bond you have formed with your newborn.

Here are some tips to get started3:

  • Find a quiet, dimly lit area in your home where you can sit or recline comfortably.

  • Position your baby, dressed only in a diaper, on your bare chest for at least 20 minutes.

  • You can also take turns with dad.

  • When your baby starts to fuss, it’s probably a good time to stop.

Skin-to-skin contact is a natural and effective way to bond with your baby and give them emotional stability and the best start to life. Hold them close and enjoy every moment.

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1 Kangaroo mother care to reduce morbidity and mortality in low-birth-weight infants,
Aug. 15, 2021.
2 Does Hugging Provide Stress-Buffering Social Support?
Aug. 15, 2021.
3 Kangaroo Care: The Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact,
Aug. 15, 2021.
4 Understanding kangaroo care and its benefits to preterm infants,
Aug. 15, 2021.
5 The importance of skin-to-skin with baby after delivery,
Aug. 15, 2021.
7 Kangaroo care by fathers and mothers: comparison of physiological and stress responses in preterm infants,
Aug. 15, 2021.
8 Twenty-year Follow-up of Kangaroo Mother Care Versus Traditional Care,
Aug. 15, 2021.