Updated: Aug 18, 2022
Just in case you aren’t fully convinced of the incredible benefits of skin-to-skin contact, this study will eliminate any doubt. The study, titled Synchronous caregiving from birth to adulthood tunes humans’ social brain, published in 2021, followed 96 newborn babies into adulthood over a 20 year period.
New parents and future parents: this information is GOLD.
First, what is Synchrony?
“Social synchrony describes the coordination between the parent’s and child’s nonverbal behavior and communicative signals during social interactions in ways that enhance positivity, reciprocity, and mutual engagement and we tested its longitudinal impact on the brain basis of empathy, a core feature of the social brain” (Yaniv et al., 2021).
Researchers wanted to know “what may be the effects of maternal-newborn skin-to-skin contact and synchronous caregiving across development on the social brain into young adulthood?” To answer these questions, researchers followed three groups of babies: preterm babies who received maternal-infant skin-to-skin contact every day for the first four weeks of their life, preterm babies who received standard incubator care and full term babies. The 96 newborns and their mothers were observed at the hospital and then several more times over a twenty year period. The tests conducted included the following:
Infancy: Mothers and babies were observed interacting together.
Preschool: Mothers and toddlers were observed playing together with different toys, such as a tea set, baby dolls, and toy cars.
Adolescence: Mothers and children were observed discussing pre-selected topics in which they had to make a plan, such as planning the “best day ever.” Children were also observed with their best friend to analyze other social relationships.
Young Adulthood: Mothers and their grown children were again observed discussing pre-selected topics: one positive topic and one topic of concern in which each partner had to help the other solve a problem.
In addition to these recorded observations, the adult participants were given a depression and anxiety test as well as an MRI scan. The MRI scan measured the level of empathy present while the participants were given different scenarios and images and told to put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist. The amount of empathy the participants felt was actually observable during an MRI scan. Isn’t science amazing?
There are few studies that have spent the amount of time and resources to measure the long-term impact of skin-to-skin contact, making this study particularly groundbreaking.
These results should be shared with all parents and future parents.
The findings conclude that the babies who received skin-to-skin contact have a more synchronous relationship with their mothers and are more empathetic adults in comparison to the babies who lacked initial maternal contact.
“Because the experience of synchrony in infancy bears long-term consequences for child development, skin-to-skin contact, which is an easy-to-implement intervention that boosts mother-infant relationship, should be advertised and widely supported” (Yaniv et al., 2021).
This also further proves that a babies’ very first relationship, the one with their mother, (or father or primary caregiver) truly shapes the rest of their relationships.
Frequent skin-to-skin contact has long-term, measurable benefits. Close, bodily contact literally rewires the brain to boost empathy and lay a foundation for more positive, long-term relationships. In addition to this profound finding, skin-to-skin contact acts as a comforting transition from the womb to the world.
“Possibly, one function of maternal-newborn bodily contact is to provide a bridge from prenatal life, when the mothers physiological systems are tuned to the growth needs of the fetus, to postnatal social life, when moments of social synchrony externally regulate the infant’s heart rhythms, hormonal response and brain oscillations and tune them to social life” (Leclère et al., 2021).
Let this information empower you to hold your baby often, snuggle, practice skin-to-skin contact daily and keep your baby close. By doing so, you are contributing to a more empathetic future.
Yaniv, A. U., Salomon, R., Waidergoren, S., Shimon-Raz, O., Djalovski, A., & Feldman, R. (2021, April 6). Synchronous caregiving from birth to adulthood tunes humans' social brain. PNAS. Retrieved February 13, 2022, from https://www.pnas.org/content/118/14/e2012900118