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Let's Get Skin-to-Skin

The Magic of Close Contact

By Jillian Christofferson

The moment a baby emerges from the womb, they experience something novel: touch. Every new experience has the possibility to disrupt and disorder a person who has never lived outside a human body. Once placed on their parent’s chest, they are grounded by the sound of the heartbeat that has been the calming metronome of their existence thus far. They are finally exposed to the smells, sounds, and the microbiome of what they’ll experience as home. 

Having the opportunity to calmly rest on the chest of their birthing parent kick starts a subtle and important process of recuperation, connection, and vital regulation. Once calmed by familiar sounds and scents, baby begins to wake and respond to voices. This is followed by an innate interest in breastfeeding that has the potential to create a pattern which can help smooth over possible feeding issues down the road. The intimate connection with baby triggers the release of oxytocin which promotes bonding, triggers the flow of breastmilk, contracts the uterus to minimize bleeding, and warms the body in order to aid in regulating baby’s body temperature. Baby’s heart rate, cortisol (stress) levels, and breathing are also regulated by this connection. 

Prolonged skin-to-skin contact immediately following birth contributes to the initial colonization of baby’s microbiome by friendly bacteria from their parent’s body. Studies confirm that combined with exposure to vaginal fluid and breastmilk, the resulting microbiome is both unique and robust. We know that a healthy microbiome is a vital part of an effective immune system, efficient digestion and balanced skin,  resulting in fewer skin complications like eczema. 

Birth exists at the crossroads of science and magic. Nothing better demonstrates this than the extensive list of benefits of a parent and baby being in close proximity to one another. These benefits don’t end after an hour of skin-to-skin contact immediately following their birth. Disrobing baby to their diaper and placing them on the chest of a parent or caregiver before wrapping them continues to show great benefits for both parties for weeks and even months after delivery. 

Touch and the human experience are intrinsically linked. Just as we hold hands to show affection, hug to calm our nerves, or cuddle to promote feelings of safety and connection, babies yearn for physical connection to the world around them. Skin-to-skin is a simple yet profound practice that introduces infants to the possibility of physical and emotional refuge as they navigate the world. With that ingrained sense of security and love, babies who experience skin-to-skin contact are better equipped not just to survive, but thrive.

About the Author

Jillian Christofferson is a birth worker and educator, craftsperson, and mother of two. Follow her on IG @jillian.christofferson.

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