Skin-to-skin contact

Skin-to-skin contact

How to strengthen the bond with your baby through skin-to-skin contact

Skin contact strengthens parent-child bonding

Holding your baby in your arms for the first time is a precious moment. This skin contact has an immediate positive effect on bonding between parents and their newborn. Cuddling, caressing, carrying and close physical contact give babies a sense of security.

The bonding phase after birth
After a straightforward birth, a newborn can snuggle on the mother’s or father’s bare chest. This first skin-to-skin contact supports emotional bonding between parent and child. This skin contact is important, because it triggers the release of hormones that nurture a close bond and a loving relationship. This bonding process in the first few days helps parents to spot their baby’s signals and tune in to her needs. This, in turn, helps the baby to develop a strong sense of basic trust. An intense bond can also be forged despite initial obstacles. If children need special care due to a difficult birth or illness which prevents immediate bonding with the parents, there are ways to make up for this.

Skin-to-skin contact nurtures a sense of security
The most important feeling for newborns is the closeness of loving caregivers: for a baby, feeling close means feeling safe. Babies sense when their signals are being picked up and they have our attention, so they know they aren’t in danger. Nurturing a sense of security is an essential part of caring for a baby’s wellbeing, especially in the first months. Above all, this sense of protection is expressed through physical closeness: wrapped in the arms of their parent or carer, snuggling up against them in bed, or held close in a sling or baby carrier, the baby feels safe and secure. This close body contact is also warming. Especially in the first few months, babies have a hard time regulating their body temperature. Close physical contact can support them in this.

The need for touch and closeness
People need touch for healthy emotional development. Touch is our first language in life and plays an essential role. Babies develop a sense of touch even in the womb. Then at birth they experience physical contact and are held and embraced by hands for the first time. In addition to breastfeeding and being carried and cuddled, babies are particularly aware of touch during their day-to-day changing and bathing routine, when they feel direct skin contact.
Mindful care can be incorporated into a baby’s daily routine from the very beginning. For instance, parents can establish skincare rituals that nourish both the body and emotional bonding – baby massage offers exactly this. Through massage, parents learn to gently care for and communicate with their baby, recognising and responding to their child’s signals.

The bonding hormone oxytocin
The skin is our largest organ and has millions of receptors that react to touch. If the brain perceives even light or gentle skin-to-skin contact, it releases the hormone oxytocin, among other things. Loving physical contact therefore goes hand-in-hand with the release of oxytocin, which creates a feeling of connection. Also known as the “cuddling hormone”, oxytocin has a relaxing effect, alleviates anxiety, lowers blood pressure, reduces cortisol levels and strengthens the immune system. The resulting positive feelings strengthen the bond between children and their caregivers, nurturing a close relationship.

Touch impacts a child’s development
Experiencing different forms of physical contact and loving touch not only helps newborns to gain a sense of their body and to understand it better, but also stimulates their brain development and cognitive abilities. During nappy changing and body care, babies feel their caregiver’s touch on their skin. They sense whether the adult’s hands are warm or cold, and whether they exert stronger or weaker pressure. Combining skin care with gentle massage gives the child the opportunity to develop a sense of their own physical being, mentally mapping out their body. Changing nappies, bathing and baby massage not only benefit body and soul, but also become a comprehensive learning experience for the baby.