Happy, happy Father’s Day to all of you Dads! We talk a lot (as often + as loudly as we can!) about the benefits of regularly practicing skin-to-skin (S2S) contact with your infant. We regularly get asked, “Is S2S only for Mom and baby, or are there benefits for Dad too?”
We’re always excited to report that Dad + baby receive almost the identical remarkable benefits of snuggling S2S as Mom + baby! Happy Father’s Day, indeed. So get snuggling, keep snuggling, and soak up the benefits for both of you.
More on the science & details of benefits for Dad + baby below:
Benefits for Baby:
1. Accelerates Brain Development:
Skin to skin contact is a multi-sensory experience. Holding baby on Dad’s skin increases the development of essential neural pathways, which accelerates brain maturation. In addition, research shows that kangaroo’ed babies spend more time in quiet sleep, which enhances organizational patterns in the brain and decreases baby’s stress responses.
2. Calms, Soothes & Reduces Stress:
The direct connection with Dad’s skin during Kangaroo Care soothes baby so much that babies’ cortisol levels (stress hormone) are measurably lowered after only 20 minutes of being held skin to skin. And, remarkably, their pain is reduced when held skin to skin. As a result, babies who experience regular Kangaroo Care often cry less and appear less agitated.
3. Improves Quality of Sleep:
Development of mature brain function in infants depends on the quality of their sleep cycling. During skin to skin, most infants fall asleep easily, and achieve what is called “Quiet Sleep”, a natural deep sleep for 60 minutes or more.
4. Enhances Immune System:
Baby’s immune system is stimulated when placed skin to skin. Dad’s mature immune system passes antibodies through his skin to baby. Being on Dad’s skin also increases baby’s skin hydration, which provides a protective barrier from harmful bacteria entering baby’s skin.
5. Stimulates Digestion & Weight Gain:
Kangaroo Care reduces cortisol and somatostatin in babies, allowing for better absorption and digestion of nutrients, while decreasing gastrointestinal problems. With a reduction of these hormones, baby’s bodies preserve brown fat (the healthy fat babies are born with), helping to maintain birth weight and keep a warm body temperature. As a result, baby’s body does not have to burn its own fat stores to stay warm, resulting in better weight gain. After just one hour of skin to skin, the infant’s digestive system is restored to the right balance for optimal GI function.
6. Synchronizes Heart Rate + Breathing:
Simply put, through time spent skin to skin with Dad, baby’s body learns to self-regulate, resulting in a regular and stable heartbeat and breathing pattern. 75% of sporadic breathing and slow heart rate episodes are reduced through skin-to-skin contact.
The benefits for baby alone are well worth the time spent skin to skin. But what’s even more remarkable is that there are benefits for Dad too:
Promotes Psychological Well-Being
As Dad sits with baby skin to skin on his chest, oxytocin (natural “feel good” hormone) levels in his body increase. With increased oxytocin levels, Dad’s testosterone levels decrease. This shift in hormones creates a “relaxation and well-being” response. This aids in Dad responding with nurturing and affectionate behaviors toward baby and allowing him to better bond with baby. As Dad is more sensitive and aware of his baby’s needs, he feels more tuned-in to baby, and more confident about his parenting skills. Dads are more interactive with their infants and report a stronger bond long term if they’ve held baby skin to skin.
It’s worth pointing out the two main differences between Mom spending time S2S and Dad spending time S2S with baby:
1. Milk production:
Moms who experience breastfeeding difficulties are likely to see near-immediate improvements by practicing Kangaroo Care for at least 60 minutes per session, 1-2 times a day. Obviously this is a benefit only for Mom, and not Dad!
2. Regulation of Body Temperature:
Within minutes of being held skin-to-skin, Mom’s breasts automatically adjust to cool baby down or warm him up, in response to what baby needs. However, while a woman’s breast tissue regulates a baby’s temperature, and can either cool OR heat, a man’s breast tissue only heats baby. Therefore, Dad needs to pay particular attention to overheating baby, and for that reason, it is suggested that Dad only hold baby skin to skin for 60 minutes at a time.
Now that you know all the benefits for baby and Dad, what’s the proper positioning for skin to skin contact? Same as S2S time with mom.
– Dad should have his shirt off. Sit semi-reclined, and baby should have on just a diaper.
– Place your baby in a vertical position directly against Dad’s bare chest, with their shoulders resting on or above Dad’s breastbone. Cover your little one with a blanket to keep them warm.
– Make sure to check in with baby, listening and looking for cues that they are properly positioned. Baby’s head should be turned to one side with their neck straight, not flexed or extended. Make sure their nose and mouth remain uncovered and you can see their sweet face at all times.
Snuggle up and snuggle on, Dads and babies. We’d love to hear about your experiences holding baby S2S, so please share!