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In Dad’s Arms: Exploring the Transformative Impact of Skin-to-Skin Contact on Father-Child Attachment

It always amazes us how something so simple can have such a profound impact on the health and well being of babies and their parents, while also laying the foundation for a healthy, bonded relationship. Study after study proves this to be true, and now we know more than ever about the lasting effect of skin-to-skin contact between father and child. Lets celebrate the important connection between dads and their babies and explore research backed ways to maximize their time together. 


Dads, this one's for you!


A dad lovingly kisses his baby.
A dad lovingly kisses his baby.

Research that examines the benefits of skin-to-skin contact between fathers and their babies all point to one conclusion: Skin-to-skin contact strengthens the attachment and increases dads’ level of involvement and affection, amongst many other health benefits.  


One study focused their research specifically on the attachment between fathers and their newborns. 83 first time dads participated in the study, and about half of participants practiced care-as-usual and the other half practiced skin-to-skin contact for just 15 minutes for the first three days of their babies’ lives. 


The outcome was measured using the Father-Child Attachment Scale, and the results show that the skin-to-skin contact group measured significantly higher on the attachment scale than the control group. Just 15 minutes a day of skin-to-skin contact led fathers and their newborn babies to feel more connected to one another. Isn’t that incredible? Now, imagine what the results would be if dads practiced skin-to-skin contact consistently for three months? Or even six? 


A dad playfully kisses his baby’s stomach. 
A dad playfully kisses his baby’s stomach. 

The study continues to say that “New fathers have been shown not only to develop close emotional ties with their child 3 days postpartum, but also to invest and sustain a strong interest in him or her during this period. Consequently, skin-to-skin contact may help decrease parental anxiety and enhance the dependency relationship. More frequent interaction with his infant may indicate that a father is providing increased levels of positive parenting behavior as measured by the five facets: sensory stimulation, physical care, warmth, nurturing, and fathering” (Chen et al., 2017). 


In addition to increased attachment, skin-to-skin contact between fathers and their children leads to many more physical and emotional benefits for dad and baby. 


Skin-to-skin contact benefits dad by:


  • Decreasing anxiety and depression

  • Increasing parental confidence 

  • Raising levels of oxytocin (the love hormone) 

  • Increasing affectionate touch and playfulness 

  • Increasing communication (this is HUGE for brain development)

  • Strengthening his responsiveness to his baby and ability to read cues 

  • Creating a more bonded relationship



A dad holds his baby close. 
A dad holds his baby close. 

Skin-to-skin contact helps your baby by: 


  • Lowering pain or discomfort levels (especially important if your baby is in the hospital and has to have shots or medical interventions of any kind) 

  • Decreasing crying, stress levels

  • Improving sleep duration and quality 

  • Improving gut health 

  • Regulating your baby’s temperature, heart rate, and breathing patterns

  • Strengthening the immune system 

  • Helping baby absorb and digest nutrients, therefore increasing growth 

  • Improving brain development and parental attachment, which has long-term benefits into adulthood 

  • Helping your baby conserve energy so they can focus on learning instead of surviving, wiring your baby’s brain for optimal wellness 

  • Fostering empathy and strengthens positive relationships


“Further, parental SSC (skin-to-skin contact) with one's child that is performed with the intention of deepening attachment and emotional relationships has been shown to raise parental confidence toward child care. Activities, such as allowing new fathers to see the face of their newborn, hug or touch their newborn, and engage in SSC, facilitate the role transition of expectant fathers. The first instance of intimate contact between a father and his child creates self-awareness for the former—who is a key provider for the newborn—and may further catalyze feelings of affinity and protectiveness” (Chen et al., 2017). 


As you can see, practicing skin-to-skin contact with your child is one of the most impactful and simple ways to help your baby thrive. Here are some great times to practice skin-to-skin contact to help get you started. If you’ve never practiced skin-to-skin contact, it’s easy! Just hold your baby vertically against your bare chest, so their naked chest is against yours. Your baby should be naked (Except for their diaper) or in Bonsie Skin to Skin Babywear, with the front of the Bonsie open.


We highly recommend skin-to-skin contact be a part of your birthing plan and postpartum plan for all caregivers. 

A dad holds his baby skin-to-skin. 
A dad holds his baby skin-to-skin. 

After the golden hour

If mom is medically able to practice skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth, she will likely snuggle with your newborn for one or several hours. After your baby has eaten and had some time to bond with mom, this would be a great time to practice skin-to-skin contact yourself so mom can sleep. The greatest medical advantages for babies are seen after birth, and the best place for babies to be is directly on mom or dads’ chest, skin-to-skin, while babies are adjusting to their new surroundings. 


At the hospital

For the duration of your hospital stay, make it your goal to hold your baby skin-to-skin for at least an hour a day. In this position, your baby will likely peacefully sleep, and during this time, a whirlwind of emotional and physical benefits are taking hold and wiring your baby’s brain for optimal health outcomes. The more your baby can be held skin-to-skin in the first few weeks, with you or mom, the better! 


At home

Once at home, the benefits of holding your baby skin-to-skin continue. In fact, doctors and other experts recommend that full-term babies be held skin-to-skin every day for at least three months after birth, and preterm babies should be held skin-to-skin for a minimum of six months after birth.


Please remember that the benefits never stop, anytime you practice this meaningful connection you are positively impacting the health of your child.

Skin-to-skin contact is an opportunity to relax and snuggle with your baby, and the perfect excuse to slow down. And remember that you are both tremendously benefiting from this special time together, and that these benefits will last a lifetime. 


After your baby has eaten

After your baby has a full tummy is a great time for skin-to-skin contact. Again, it’s likely your baby will want to sleep in this position, so try to hold them for an hour or longer to take full advantage of this time and allow for a full sleep cycle. Is there anything better than being nap trapped? We don’t think so! 


A dad comforts his baby. 
A dad comforts his baby. 

If your baby is fussy

Research proves that babies who are regularly held skin-to-skin cry less because skin-to-skin contact eases pain and discomfort as a result of the oxytocin boost. If your baby is fussy due to gas pains, teething, or tiredness, skin-to-skin contact is a great comfort tool and reminds your baby that they are safe and loved. 


Before or after baby eats

If your baby is not ready for a nap, skin-to-skin contact will likely trigger their instinct to breastfeed or bottle feed. A great way to support your breastfeeding partner is to practice skin-to-skin contact before or after your baby eats to give mom some time to rest. When you notice your baby rooting or showing signs of hunger, hand your baby back to mom to nurse. Or, if your baby bottle feeds, you can then feed and burp your baby.  When your baby is full, you can resume your skin-to-skin contact for a peaceful, cozy nap.


After returning home from work or being gone  

Skin-to-skin contact is the perfect way to reconnect after being gone. If you’ve been at work all day, traveling, or just running errands, consider practicing skin-to-skin contact once home to help you and your baby unwind, relax, and bond.  If mom has been caring for your baby all day, this is also an opportunity to give her time to herself while greatly contributing to the well being of your baby. 


A dad changes his baby’s outfit. 
A dad changes his baby’s outfit. 

Wishing a Happy Father’s Day to all the dedicated dads who prioritize meaningful time with their children. Here’s to the dads who change midnight diapers, sing lullabies, and read bedtime stories. Your commitment to fatherhood is making an immeasurable impact on your children and truly creating a better world.  



Sources: 

Chen, E.-M., Gau, M.-L., Liu, C.-Y., & Lee, T.-Y. (2017). Effects of father-neonate skin-to-skin contact on attachment: A randomized controlled trial. Nursing research and practice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5282438/  

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