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Skin to Skin

Having close, skin to skin contact with baby is the best way to help build a physical and emotional bond with them as soon as possible after giving birth.

Skin to skin contact means that baby is placed on your bare chest and you are wrapped up together in a sheet or blanket to keep warm. This can usually happen straight after giving birth and allows you to greet and welcome your new baby into the world.

Skin to skin is also beneficial at later times, if you are not feeling well after giving birth, or you are having any difficulties with breastfeeding.

Skin to skin after birth

The first hour after giving birth has become known as the ‘Magical’, ‘Golden’ or ‘Sacred’ hour. This is because it is such a special time when you get to meet your baby for the first time – and baby gets to meet you!

Skin to skin contact helps baby to settle and relax after their birth experience. Babies will recognise their mother’s smell and the sound of her voice, making the bright and intense outside world not such a scary place.

Being in skin to skin contact helps baby to feel less stressed. Research shows that babies who are held in skin to skin after birth have more regular breathing, keep warm and regulate their temperature, regulate their heartbeat and cry less.

Mothers who have skin to skin contact with their babies enjoy the close feeling of cuddling their new baby, and show more natural mothering behaviours towards their baby. Skin to skin can help mothers to feel more confident in their new role.

The UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative sets standards for hospitals in order to help promote parents and infant relationship building and breastfeeding. Facilitating skin to skin contact is a core part of their standards. They have produced this video to show the benefits of skin to skin and show how parents feel about it. It is aimed at health professionals, but you might find it helpful to watch.

Some mothers have a few worries about skin to skin contact, either about exposure of their bodies or concerns about safety if they are feeling very tired. Find our responses to these concerns below:

What if I feel too tired?


Some mothers worry about keeping baby safe during skin to skin because they may be very tired or groggy after labour. This is where your birthing partner can help by supporting baby and allowing both mother and baby to rest. Your midwife will help you do this – and will keep checking on you both.

What if I have a caesarean?


You can still have skin to skin with your baby after a caesarean. If you want to, the baby can be placed across your chest straight away. If you would prefer, you can have skin to skin contact with your baby a little later, in the recovery room.

Do I need to be exposed?


Not if you don’t want to be! Though research shows that you might find that you are less worried about this after you have given birth.

You and baby can be covered in a sheet or light blanket, as long as baby’s face is kept clear so they can breathe freely.

What if I don't want to breastfeed?


Skin to skin often leads to a feed but if you are not sure about breastfeeding skin to skin can still offer you a fantastic way to start to build that special bond with your baby and have your first cuddle. You’ve earned it!

You might find that in that moment you do decide to allow baby to feed at the breast. This would provide them with the most important milk, colostrum, which is highly concentrated form of nutrition and immune boosting agents.

Skin to skin and breastfeeding

Skin to skin contact is the perfect opportunity to start breastfeeding. The close contact stimulates the release of hormones that tell your body to make and let down milk.

If you have skin to skin contact with your baby for, without interruption, your baby will naturally go through 9 stages of activity and rest. They will start to make rooting movements (that is moving their head side to side) and sucking movements and stick their tongue out. Your baby will make crawling-type movements and slowly start to find your breast and nipple. After having a good explore, they will eventually latch on themselves. This usually takes around an hour but can last longer.

Allowing your baby uninterrupted time in skin to skin contact with you is the best way to get breastfeeding off to a good start. However, if your birth doesn’t quite go to plan and this is not possible, there will be plenty more opportunities to have skin to skin contact with your baby and to establish breastfeeding.

You can enjoy skin to skin contact with your baby at any time – it doesn’t just have to be after birth. If you experience any difficulties with breastfeeding, time in skin to skin is one of the most effective ways to overcome them. This is because:

Please see more information about the nine stages of skin to skin contact from the researchers who discovered the stages.

Skin to Skin with other caregivers

Dads or other main caregivers can enjoy skin to skin contact with baby too.

This will still help baby to feel safe and secure as they are likely to recognise Dad’s voice, and it will help baby to regulate their temperature, heart rate and breathing too.

If mum is able to have skin to skin straight after birth, then it is best for anyone else to wait until they have had plenty of uninterrupted time. Mum really has earned this cuddle! But skin to skin with Dad a little later can be a great way for the two of you to start building your special bond.

If mum does not feel up to skin to skin straight away, then skin to skin contact with another main caregiver such as Dad is the next best thing to help baby relax and rest.