Babies love to be cuddled and held. Research shows that being in skin-to-skin contact with a parent does more than just make the baby happy.
It can help to solve breastfeeding problems, prevent hypoglycemia and other newborn difficulties, reduce pain, stabilise premature babies and set the stage for optimal brain development. A newborn’s brain development depends on positive sensory stimulation.
At birth, the sensations that tell the brain ‘I am safe’ are the mother’s smell, voice her movements and skin-to-skin contact. When the brain does not get those sensations, it says, ‘I am not safe,’ and then it goes into a self-defence programme.
But when the baby is in skin-to-skin contact with his mother, a natural process unfolds. It stimulates a specific part of the newborn brain, so that two things happen. The baby will move to the breast, self-attach and feed; and secondly, the baby will open his eyes and gaze at his mother.
The interest in skin-to-skin contact for the littlest of babies started in 1979, when neotatologists Edgar Rey and Hector Martinez, in Bogotá, Colombia, found themselves without enough incubators to care for all the premature babies in their hospital. Instead, they put the tiny babies on their mothers’ bodies and wrapped them in cloth carriers to keep them warm.
The babies thrived, and the doctors named their technique, which also included breastfeeding and early discharge, the Kangaroo Mother Method. Later the term was changed to kangaroo mother care.