Welcoming a newborn to the family is equally rewarding and demanding. What drives moms and dads to wake up multiple times a night and rearrange their entire lives to revolve around a bawling, mess-making infant? It's the indescribable love that blossoms when holding your baby.
As much as it seem like an obvious part of raising a baby, these tender touches also do a lot of heavy lifting at the psychological level.
Kangaroo care is a popular way to do skin-to-skin contact, especially with preterm babies. The method involves placing the baby in nothing but a diaper against a parent's bare chest for at least an hour, and a blanket or similar layer cocoons both the parent and infant. Experts recommend regularly practicing this method for the first three months.
Kangaroo care improves oxygen saturation levels and other markers that make for a less stressed baby. A kangaroo-care baby can often leave the hospital earlier and is less likely to need rehospitalization than a baby who did not receive this attention.
When the birthing parent holds their baby right after delivery, the brain releases beta-endorphin. This hormone is not unlike a pain reliever, and it also makes the parent feel relaxed.
In addition, baby-holding serves as an excellent mindfulness practice. It's a sensory experience involving touch, smell, sight, and sound. Whether a baby is awake and happy or asleep, savoring these details is gratifying and grounding. The deep breathing parents can do in these moments is restorative and energizes them for the daily challenges of caring for a newborn. Holding a crying baby against you while you breathe calmly also helps the infant to calm down.
Post-birth, the brain releases a rush of the hormone oxytocin. This hormone is nature's way of helping the parent and infant bond, and it also paves the way for breast or chestfeeding. The baby also produces oxytocin — it enhances well-being and is known as the "cuddle chemical." If a baby is born by the cesarian section, this bonding time is crucial. Even non-birthing parents experience an increase in oxytocin when with their baby.
In addition to simply holding the newborn, research shows that tnfant massage can also reduce postpartum depression in birthing parents.
It's a good idea for skin-to-skin contact to occur as soon as a baby enters the world. When babies pass through the birth canal, beneficial bacteria cling to their bodies. Exposing the infant to these bacteria for longer is a boon to their immune system, protecting against infection and the risk of neonatal sepsis.
The baby can be cleaned off after this initial contact.
Holding a baby makes them feel warm, preventing both hypothermia and hyperthermia. Infant massage, briefly mentioned above, is another fantastic aid in the caregiver's toolkit. It
Like all humans, newborn babies feel pain. When parents snuggle with their baby, high infant heart rates linked to pain decrease, and blood pressure and blood glucose stabilize as well.
The oxytocin produced decreases inflammation and stimulates healing. Research shows babies feel less pain when they can hold their caregivers' fingers or when their parents offer tactile soothing in the form of back and head strokes and light pressure.
Research indicates that immediate skin-to-skin contact after birth leads to quicker and longer first feedings. The World Health Organization recommends that the first hour following birth be reserved for skin-to-skin as far as possible because being held calms infants down to a point where their latch instinct comes to the fore. Skin-to-skin contact can also increase milk supply.
Preterm babies struggle to regulate their temperatures, and kangaroo care can assist them much like an incubator does. The physical contact shortens NICU stays, assists growth, and improves neurological development.
When a parent cozies up to their preemie baby, it promotes weight gain. And infant massage helps preterm babies with their digestion and bowel movements.
Skin-to-skin time soon after birth regulates the baby's breathing and limits crying. There's also evidence that babies held during minimally invasive procedures cry less than those who remain in their cribs during the same procedures.
In general, affection and touch can make babies less fussy and set the tone for a lifetime of nurturing.
By picking an infant up when they're distressed, embracing them when they're alert, planting kisses on their face when they're feeding, or massaging them, parents apply skill after skill and learn what works best for their baby. They grow more self-assured and capable with time and practice, and surviving becomes thriving.
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