Children’s Health: Odds of breastfeeding success boosted by direct contact at birth

Babies who receive skin-to-skin contact also cry less, but the practice is uncommon in many hospitals

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Babies who get skin-to-skin contact with their mother after birth are more likely to be breastfed, researchers have found.

Early skin-to-skin contact — placing the naked newborn on the mother’s bare chest with a blanket over the baby’s back — is often not the norm. Many hospitals either separate mother and infant, or swaddle or dress the infant before reuniting mother and baby. But a recent review suggests there are advantages to early skin-to-skin contact.

“There’s been some recent basic research that has shown that babies are guided to the mother’s nipple by olfactory cues, and they have increased sensitivity to those cues in the early hours post-birth,” says study author Elizabeth Moore of Vanderbilt University’s school of nursing in Nashville, Tenn. “So when they’re placed skin to skin, they’re going to be able to locate the mother’s nipple and start suckling a little more effectively than babies who are swaddled and the mothers have gowns on and they’re not exposed to those cues.”

Moore and her colleagues reviewed 30 previous studies involving 1,925 mother-infant pairs. Infants who had early skin-to-skin contact were 80 per cent more likely to be breastfed in the first four months, and were breastfed more than 40 days longer than infants who did not have early skin-to-skin contact. They also cried for about eight fewer minutes in a 75-minute observation period.

“(There was a) dramatic difference in the crying,” Moore says. “Babies tend to exhibit a distress response when they’re removed from their mothers, so when you have the babies lying skin-to-skin on their mothers, the babies tend to be very quiet and calm. And then right when you remove them from their mothers the babies tend to cry more.”

Skin-to-skin contact should last a minimum of two hours after delivery — at least until the first breastfeeding.

“Since we know the intervention works, we need to take the next step and examine what’s going on in our hospitals that’s keeping us from implementing this type of intervention,” Moore says.