Skin-to-skin cuddles help moms, babies

Both newborns and their mothers benefit from skin-to-skin cuddling, researchers in Nova Scotia find.

It's not just newborns who benefit from skin-to-skin cuddling — moms do, too, researchers in Nova Scotia have found.

In skin-to-skin contact, the mother sits and holds her baby, who is wearing just a diaper, on her bare chest, facing toward her for hours at a time.

When researchers at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia tracked 100 mothers and babies over four years, they found mothers who used skin-to-skin contact reported breastfeeding for a longer period, less postpartum depression, and a closer relationship with their babies compared with mothers who did not use the method.

The snuggled babies in turn were more alert, the team found.

Previous studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact is good for babies, especially premature babies, because the close contact replicates conditions in the womb.

For the mother, the close contact stimulates the hormone oxytocin, which helps to promote maternal feelings, said Ann Bigelow, who teaches psychology at the university and was one of the lead researchers.

"Because the baby is being held so close to the mother, the mother learns the baby's signals," Bigelow said. "So the mother is aware when the baby is about to wake up or when the baby is hungry. She gets to know her baby sooner."

Study participant Kerri Ellen Gabriel said the skin-to-skin contact helped to create an instant bond with her daughter, Kyra, during the first three months of breastfeeding.

"It was a very easy thing to do during breastfeeding," Gabriel recalled. "It just felt so nice."

The researchers have produced a DVD for mothers and health-care workers about skin-to-skin contact, hoping to spread the word that creating a closer bond requires no special equipment or complicated instructions.

The study was funded by the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation.