FFHQ Midwife and Pregnancy Expert, Avril Flynn, explains why skin-to-skin contact is so important for dads to partake in too.
November is Men’s health awareness month. I wanted to write about the importance of skin-to-skin for newborns (and older babies) with their fathers and to show the benefit to both baby and their dad (or dads!).
Skin-to-skin is the term that describes close skin contact, from one tiny newborn with their parent. Skin-to-skin with a birthing mother will almost always happen, unless there is a medical reason why it can’t, for example, if the baby or mother is unwell.
Much of the focus around birth can be around the mother (for obvious reasons) and because of this, sometimes, people may assume that skin-to-skin just refers to the mum.
But it actually can happen with any parent, male or female. With the evolving modern Irish family sometimes there might be a mum and dad, or two mums, or two dads!
Skin-to-skin literally means just that - the baby just wears a nappy (or nothing if you're brave!) and cuddles into the dads bare chest and arms. They are covered by a blanket to keep them cosy. It can start from the moment they are born and continue in the maternity unit or hospital but also when they get home.
It is such a lovely way for dads to feel close and have that connection with their little one. Dads can be very nervous with a small baby so it really builds their confidence and when they see their skin and presence soothing their baby, it is magical.
With mums, skin-to-skin and that “golden hour” (where the birthing parent and baby should be left undisturbed for the first hour) can be a meaningful and scientifically backed, first step toward breastfeeding. But Increasingly, scientific research is showing that the benefits of skin-to-skin for both dad and baby are huge too.
Studies have shown that skin-to-skin lowers the heart rate and stress hormones in the baby. It is the natural and physiological norm for babies to be held close to their parents, your skin onto theirs. They are kept warm, can hear your heartbeat and they know their parent's smell. Newborns will clearly exhibit more calm behaviour while skin-to-skin. It releases oxytocin (the love hormone) in both baby and Dad.
Nils Bergman, a highly respected Swedish specialist in perinatal neuroscience, has written and lectured extensively on the importance of skin-to-skin for mothers, but also fathers. His research has found that Just 30 mins of skin-to-skin contact between baby and dad essentially rewires the dad's brain chemistry by increasing dopamine and oxytocin and lowering testosterone.
The dad will have an automatic positive association from close contact with their baby. It also colonises the baby's' skin with the natural flora that exist on the dad's skin which helps kick start the tiny immune system of the little one.
For a dad, who has not been pregnant or carried their baby within them, holding his newborn for the first time is the start of that amazing physical bonding process. Dad can get involved from that very first day. It can continue with Dad or dads right throughout babyhood.
Another positive is it also starts to share the load between two parents and includes the dad fully in the beauty that is the early days of their little human's life.
It's a very special thing to witness and I remember making sure my husband had that time with our son. Although sometimes dads might be slightly uncomfortable stripping off their top in a maternity ward, thankfully it is becoming more and more common and is actively encouraged in most units.
So what are you waiting for dads? Get that top off and get into the brilliant practice of feeling that beautiful, gorgeous velvet little creature (your baby) close to your heart, skin-to-skin. Only good things will come of it.