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Winter Letter 2013

As I think back over the past year about my work as a labor and delivery nurse, I am most excited about one low-tech change that is producing high-impact results. Last year, the hospital where I work began a pilot program promoting skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth. I view the results as somewhat magical.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, skin-to-skin or kangaroo care is the practice of holding a diaper-clad newborn directly on a mother’s or father’s bare chest. A blanket is placed behind the baby’s back in a pouch-like position. Studies show that skin-to-skin contact has profound benefits for baby and parents. The practice usually can start the moment the baby is born.

Before we initiated the skin-to-skin practice at my hospital, nurses would take the newborn directly to a radiant warmer to check heart rate and respirations. We would then obtain a temperature, measure, weigh, assess, administer initial medications, dress, swaddle and finally return the infant to mom. As you can imagine, all these steps took precious time.

Now, as long as the baby is healthy and not having difficulty with breathing or heart rate and mom is recovering well, we immediately place the newborn directly on the mother’s bare chest and begin our tasks while the two begin bonding.

The benefits of skin-to-skin contact are well-documented. The practice helps regulate a newborn’s temperature, respirations and heart rate. Also, babies held this way cry less and are more likely to successfully breast-feed. Time and time again, I see babies placed skin-to-skin bob over to the breast and begin feeding almost seamlessly. It’s striking how well this usually works when we let nature take its course. While in the hospital, we teach parents to keep baby safe during skin–to-skin by gently turning baby’s head completely to one side so nose and mouth are exposed and baby can breathe. If a new mother is sleepy, we teach her to place baby on his back in a crib and to never sleep with baby on her chest.

Research shows babies who get plenty of skin-to-skin contact during the early months of life grow into less stressed and less anxious children and teenagers. If you are expectant parents, I encourage you to learn more about skin-to-skin contact and talk to your obstetrician or pediatrician about kangaroo care. I have seen firsthand how this simple practice offers immediate and potentially lifelong benefits.

Best Wishes,

Linda Ciampa, RN