What happens when you hold your baby, according to SCIENCE!

A lot of delicious stuff happens when you hold your baby, especially skin-to-skin.

And the perks aren’t just for the baby, but for Mama, too.

In fact, some of these effects are seen when ANY person holds a baby.

Essentially, holding a baby is like Magic Sparkle Unicorn Hormone Juice for all parties involved. 


Let’s check it out!


The Effects on Baby

1. Establishes a nice, regular heart-beat.

Sing along to it!  “Overall, kangaroo care produced changes in heart rate variability that illustrate decreasing stress.”


2. Helps baby deal with pain. (like during vaccinations, the PKU test, big brother pinches, etc)

“SSC (Skin-to-skin care) appears to be effective, as measured by composite pain indicators and including both physiological and behavioural indicators, and safe for a single painful procedure such as a heel lance.”


3. Baby’s blood sugar improves.


“Skin-to-skin contact appears to provide an optimal environment for fetal to neonatal adaptation after birth and can help to maintain body temperature and adequate blood glucose levels in healthy term newborn infants, as well as providing an ideal opportunity to establish early bonding behaviours.”


4. Baby cries less! Holla!

“Babies kept in cots cried significantly more than those kept skin-to-skin with the mother.”


5. Baby sleeps waaaay better.

To the tune of  “86% decrease in quiet sleep duration during MNS [Maternal Neonate Separation] compared with skin-to-skin contact”


6. Baby stays warmer.


Compared with incubators and warming lights, skin-to-skin raises the baby’s temperature a full degree (Celsius!) and does so faster!


7. Helps to regulate Baby’s respirations (breathing rate).

“during SSC, respiratory control of the premature infant is influenced by the caregiver’s cardiac rhythm. We propose that the caregiver’s heartbeat causes sensory perturbations of the infant via somatic or other afferents, revealing a novel cohabitation-induced feed-back mechanism of respiratory control in the neonate.”


8. Baby’s Autonomic Nervous System (Physiologic Stress Response) calms down.

There was a “176% increase” in Physiologic Stress Response at separation compared to skin-to-skin contact.


9. Better Bugs! Babies pick up useful bacteria from mama’s skin, diversifying their microbiota.


“Skin-to-skin care during earlier gestation was associated with a distinct microbial pattern and an accelerated pace of oral microbial repertoire maturity.”


10. More blood flow to baby’s brain! Hey hey!

“Kangaroo mother care improves cerebral blood flow, thus it might influence the structure and promote development of the premature infant’s brain.”


11. And that brain can handle more stress.

“The results show that close parental contact and human touch have a buffering effect on the infant’s stress reactivity and stimulate a more rapid development of regularity.”


12. Diaper changes are less stressful!

“Skin-to-skin contact (SSC) entails significantly lower stress levels (p<0.05) compared to diaper changed in an incubator/bed measured by the SCA.”

(If you’re curious exactly how you change a baby while it’s on a person, look at the tiny images here.)


Not just for mothers!

It’s reassuring to know that many of these improvements are true, even if baby is held by the Father. It doesn’t have to be the mother every time. (The benefits may be true of other care-givers or female partners. However, this review was focused specifically on biological fathers.)


“Father-infant skin-to-skin contact had positive impacts on infants’ outcomes, including temperature and pain, bio-physiological markers, behavioural response, as well as paternal outcomes, which include parental role attainment, paternal interaction behaviour, and paternal stress and anxiety.”


And if Baby is Pre-term (premature?):

1. It changes their entire first decade.

For skin-to-skin “Kangaroo Care” in pre-term infants, there is measurable improvements in “attenuated stress response, improved RSA, organized sleep, and better cognitive control” UP TO AGE TEN!


2. It can save the baby’s life.



They found “among newborns weighing less than 2000 grams (4.4 pounds) who survived to receive Kangaroo Mother Care, there was a 36% reduction in mortality and 47% lower risk of sepsis or major infection. “


3. It can help protect the infant from MRSA (Antibiotic-resistant staph).  

“skin-to-skin contact remained strongly associated with decolonization of newborns’ nostrils from MRSA/MRSE bacteria”


The Effects on Mom:

1. Mom chills out.

“Results showed that maternal stress of being separated from their infants decreased for mothers after skin-to-skin contact, and it improved their overall experience in the NICU.” 


2. Oxytocin HIGH.

Just the baby’s hands on mom’s chest helps with breastfeeding and Oxytocin release. The findings indicate that the newborns use their hands as well as their mouths to stimulate maternal oxytocin release after birth, which may have significance for uterine contraction, milk ejection, and mother-infant interaction.”


3. Mom feels more confident and secure.

“Mother-child separation raises maternal insecurity, decreases breast feeding and deprives the baby from his mother’s love and care.”


4. Daily skin-to-skin contact reduces maternal depression.

“In preterm infants, SSC has been shown to be beneficial for the mother and the infant in reducing maternal postpartum depressive symptoms.”


5. Reduces stress hormones for mother OR partner.

“Both maternal and paternal oxytocin levels were significantly increased during-SSC from baseline.”


6. Early Skin-to-skin strengthens interactions at 6 months.

“Post hoc analysis showed that dyads who were supported in kangaroo holding displayed more coregulation behavior during play than dyads in the blanket-holding group. “


7. Boosts Partner’s Perception of Role as an Equal parent.

“The fathers’ overall experiences of SSC were positive as they felt included in their infants’ care and just as important as the mothers.”


Bonus Effects:

Newborn bottoms are the best.

So take that diaper off! Or leave it on (and strip ’em down otherwise) Put baby on your chest, or your partner’s chest, or your friend’s chest while you take a nap.

In fact, here’s a great primer for the logistics.

What a sweet gift for yourself and your little one to have those moments in a mutually beneficial symbiosis of Unicorn Hormone Juice and Love.

*These lists are not exhaustive. Seriously, there’s SO MANY GOOD things beyond even this.

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