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Skin-To-Skin Care After Birth: A Practical Guide

Affiliate Disclosure | in Motherhood | by | with 46 Comments

How long do we need to practice skin-to-skin after birth for it to be beneficial? Can mom's who undergo c-sections do it? Can dads do it safely? Find out in this post!

Me: “I wish all of our babies had been this easy. I’d be a different mother.”

Daddypotamus: “You are a different mother, that’s why this baby is so easy.”

He’s right, I am different. I mean, I sometimes look for my shorts in the freezer, have long conversations about why it’s not a good idea to blend the words “frog” and “yuck,” and thank my lucky stars that I no longer have to run into the UPS man that delivered to my house when Katie was a baby. (It’s probably better if you don’t ask.)

But it’s not just that. When I look back at the decisions I’ve made as a mother things have definitely changed   . . . even when they technically stayed the same! Take skin-to-skin care for example. We all know that it means putting a newborn baby on our chest right after birth, but for how long? Is five minutes enough? Fifty? Five hours? How I answered that question after each of my births deeply affected my experience as a mother, and it got me asking other questions, like:

Can mom’s who undergo c-sections do it? Can dads do it safely? Should I swaddle my baby or snuggle them?

How long do we need to practice skin-to-skin after birth for it to be beneficial? Can mom's who undergo c-sections do it? Can dads do it safely? Find out in this post!

Skin-to-Skin: The Basics

Though seemingly simple, this practice has so many proven benefits that it is recommended by the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, and the Neonatal Resuscitation Program. In case you missed them, here are 7 benefits of skin-to-skin after birth.

Care Immediately After Birth

When skin-to-skin is practiced immediately after birth there are just three basic steps:

1. Place baby naked on the mother’s bare chest so that they are nestled chest to chest.

2. Turn baby’s face to the side in a position that opens baby’s airway. (Like this)

3. Allow baby to stay snuggled for the recommended period of time. Routine procedures such as weighing and measuring should be delayed until after this period.

What is that period of time, you ask? Unfortunately, each organization has very different guidelines on that. The World Health Organization says that newborns “without complications should be kept in skin-to-skin contact with their mothers during the first hour after birth to prevent hypothermia and promote breastfeeding.” (source, emphasis mine) The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends until the first breastfeeding. Barbara Harper, R.N. Midwife, and Founder of Waterbirth International, recommends a minimum of two hours. (source)

What I did: I practiced skin-to-skin immediately after each baby was born until the first breastfeeding. I was under the impression that everyone agreed this was “normal” best practice. I found out AFTER #3 was born that some experts recommend immediate skin to skin for up to 2 hours before allowing the baby to be examined by a professional.

Would I do things differently if I knew then what I know know? Most definitely. I don’t beat myself up for doing the best I knew to do at the time, but in hopes that this info can help a mother-to-be I wanted to share it. Every moment is precious, and the birth exam can easily be postponed until you and baby are ready.

But What About After Day 1?

Babies can benefit from skin-to-skin care in the days, weeks, and even months following birth. In fact, it is often recommended that kangaroo care be practiced up to 3 months old for full-term babies and 6 months old for preemies. (source)

Here’s how to do it:

1. Unwrap your baby so that he/she is wearing nothing but a diaper.

2. Turn baby’s face to the side in a position that opens baby’s airway. (Like this) Some organizations recommend a stretchy wrap to hold baby in place for “prolonged care” (See guidelines for proper technique here and here)

2. Keep baby nestled for a minimum of one hour. “It is important for your baby to go through a full sleep-wake cycle which is usually about 60 minutes as a minimum to get the full benefits of SSC, and to get her biological systems stabilised. For a tiny [preemie], their body systems will not be mature enough to stabilise themselves, so mothers chest helps them to settle in to a sleep-cycling and feeding rhythm.” (source)

How long do we need to practice skin-to-skin after birth for it to be beneficial? Can mom's who undergo c-sections do it? Can dads do it safely? Find out in this post!

What About Swaddling?

After reading The Happiest Baby On The Block while pregnant for the first time, I developed a personal mission to swaddle everything that moved. My cat looked a little stressed – maybe I should swaddle it. Uh oh, my boss is cranky . . . I’m going to need a bigger blanket. When Katie arrived, I swaddled her, too!

Later on I learned that in this study, babies who were swaddled immediately after birth “showed delayed feeding behaviors” and “suckled less competently at their first breastfeeding.” (source) Though the swaddled group did seem to catch up by the time they were one month old, I personally decided to forego swaddling in the first few weeks after my two youngest were born. I didn’t notice a major difference in breastfeeding, but I did find that my boys and I both slept better, and I loved every minute of it.

When they got a bit older and their startle reflex started to kick in I used this hip healthy swaddling technique to help me settle them for naps. Though everyone’s technique is different, I actually wait until mine fall asleep to wrap them so that they can use their hands to help with breastfeeding.

Can I Do Skin-To-Skin If I Have A Cesarean?

In most cases, yes! There is ample evidence that skin-to-skin care after a cesarean is safe and beneficial for baby. Here’s one woman’s story of practicing skin-to-skin while still in the operating room. This interview with a doula is full of helpful information on how to gain the cooperation of doctors and hospitals.

What About Dads?

This practice is highly recommended for dads. “Paternal skin-to-skin contact has been shown to be safe and effective for temperature regulation and for cardiorespiratory stabilization.” (source) Babies can also benefit from skin-to-skin with adoptive parents, grandparents, siblings and even doctors when necessary.


My Story

When Levi was about three months old we took him to the mall to pick up a few things. While there, he bellowed so loudly I’m pretty sure folks heard it in the parking lot.

You know what surprised me? It wasn’t that babies cry . . . it was that I’d never really heard **this** baby cry. Though I practiced skin-to-skin immediately after birth with each of my children, each time I increased the amount of skin-to-skin care I gave in the following weeks and months. It made a huge difference in how content babies #2 an #3 were and it made life much less stressful for me – I highly recommend it!

This post was brought to you by babypotamus #3, whom I have been snuggling nearly non-stop for the last four months.




Did you practice skin-to-skin? What was your experience?

Also, is Babypotamus pure sweetness or what??? :)

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46 Responses to Skin-To-Skin Care After Birth: A Practical Guide

  1. Megan says:

    I don’t do skin to skin nearly enough. Today my guy is having a rough day (it’s hard to be five weeks old) so I’ve decided that we’ll spend afternoon nap skin to skin. And maybe every afternoon nap possible that way for a while. Plus this way it forces me to nap too. Win win.

  2. Dani says:

    I did skin to skin right after birth with my daughter. She was on my chest for an hour and then nursed. They next day the nurse noticed how rapid her respirations where so I did skin to skin all day to help regulate her. She was able to go home the next day. The rest of the time home I got skin to skin in by bathing With her! She loved it and it calmed her down on a fussy day.

  3. Sarah Michal McLain says:

    Oh my goodness, is he precious or what?! So adorable! This is a really helpful post, thank you! :)

  4. ( : David'sKate : ) says:

    Great thoughts, thanks for sharing! I have did some skin to skin with my first two, but your article inspired me to do more research and it’s definitely something I want to focus on with #3, who is due in a few months! Thanks for inspiring more research and for sharing your experience!
    And babypotamus is incredible cute! His eyes! Ah, melt me!

  5. Laura says:

    He is adorable!!!!!!!!!(: I don’t have any children yet, but I would definitely practise skin-to-skin, even my friend (a midwife) once talked about this:D Oh, can’t tell you enough how I love this blog and all the information:) It’s written so well, so good to read!(: Who knew that studying and gathering knowledge can be fun!!!(:

  6. caitlin says:

    My labor happened so fast that when my baby came out I was in shock and didn’t hold him for 45minutes then my midwife finally showed up and gave him to me saying breastfeeding is important in the first hour. I only stayed at the hospital a day but now I wish I held him the whole 24hours. No biggy, I’ll do it next baby!

  7. Beth says:

    Pure sweetness indeed!!

  8. Laura says:

    I am truly super fortunate to have found your blogging site and love this post. I had my third baby a son 2 months ago and wished I would’ve known about this post before. I would have made it a point to focus in skin to skin contact. But at least I can start it now.

  9. Jessica says:

    Thank you for this! Just wanted to share my experience. Although I had my baby at a birth center and wanted to do everything as nature intended, I kinda missed the point of skin-to-skin. When baby was born we did it for a bit, but not immediately after birth (problems with the placenta delivering) and not for very long after. We did it for a few minutes each day but I usually still had a tank top on. Needless to say, my milk wasn’t coming in. I’m not sure of all of the factors that were involved with this, but when we had his 6-day, first pedi appt, the doctor told me I NEEDED to do skin to skin for the next 24 hours, to not even get out of bed, and that my milk would come in. After going home and hitting the bed with baby, it took less than two hours for my milk to finally begin coming in. I believe if i had practiced more skin-to-skin that first week it would have come in much sooner. But am I a doctor, do I know for sure? No, I don’t. But in the end it helped tremendously and I will be doing it much more next time around.

    Thanks again for this post.

    • Cait says:

      That’s an awesome story! I am doing it much more the second time around and enjoying it very much, but I can always do more so this is a good encouragement to keep on at 8 weeks. The practicality with another child is hard to get over for me…unless I nap of course. I guess I could use my Moby wrap topless, too!?

      • Jessica says:

        That would be perfect. Then you don’t feel like you’re hanging out all over the place, you have your arms free, and your baby close. Good luck!

  10. Sharms LeBlanc St Val via FB says:

    Leslie Cimadevilla

  11. Nicole says:

    Our little miracle was 6 weeks premature and had to be rushed to the NICU, so I didn’t get to do any skin-to-skin right after birth. However, as soon as she was stabilized and could be removed from the incubator, we did kangaroo care as often as possible and we could notice a definite improvement. When we finally got to bring her home, we continued doing skin-to-skin time for probably a total of 6-8 hours a day for the first few months. She had breathing problems, so the only way she’d get any decent sleep was by laying on either my chest or my husband’s. I credit a good amount of our strong bond to those skin-to-skin snuggle times. She’s now 17 months and still loves some good skin-to-skin mommy snuggles.

  12. Brandis L Roush via FB says:

    Good post… and beautiful baby!

  13. Maggie Goodman Russell via FB says:

    I started even before she was born to do an evening routine…after the Birth she knew the routine & would lay on my chest & go right to sleep…it stayed that way for 10 months & then she started to crawl & became Daddies little wiggler & gave up naps…but still sleeps all night long at 16 :)

  14. Saku Zuckerberg via FB says:

    Dad would do skin to skin with the baby. It helped them bond.

  15. Jackie Cory via FB says:

    Both my husband and I did skin to skin with our 6 month old. I had a section with a few complications. My husband did skin to skin until I was able to do it myself. We did this for a hour then breastfeed and have continued
    to do so. We do skin to skin every night after bath time. He is such a peaceful and secure baby. They are some of the most beautiful moments with my son!

  16. Mary Acosta via FB says:

    Amazing experience, he is such a happy toddler now..

  17. Mommypotamus via FB says:

    Thank you, Brandis L Roush! <3

  18. Jessica Durham via FB says:

    I didn’t with my first but have seen all the benefits and am definitely doing it with my little one due next month

  19. Mona Bradberry via FB says:

    After reading this I am now wondering if my daughter’s feeding issues are due to the fact that the hospital did their cares before my skin-to-skin time with Nina. She was also swaddled before every feed.

  20. Tamara Gallaway via FB says:

    Both my husband and I practiced this with our daughter. My midwife strongly recommend that nobody held her except us those first few hours and the nurse that stayed with me overnight at the birth center wore gloves every time she handled the baby. She slept through the night since day one and now 16 months old is such a sweet, loving and affectionate girl<3 This was such a special bonding experience.

  21. Aloka says:

    I didn’t do skin to skin with my first one as I didn’t know about the benefits or even about the practice. :(
    I am eager to do that when I have a second I can’t wait. I see myself doing it a lot!
    Nice post.

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  25. Kiki says:

    I love these photos of Levi! His expressions are so animated!

  26. Krystal Wight Armstrong says:

    No experience yet, being a mom, but I’ve read of this beneficial practice before. The question I always wonder about is the state of baby right out of the womb. I’m told they’re all messy and never pretty & clean like in movies. Do they go strait from the womb to your bare chest, with all the blood & other stuff still on their bodies? Or do they get rinsed/wiped off at all first?
    I’m happy to accept either way, I’m just curious, and want to be prepared and informed on that detail. Thank you! : )

    • Heather says:

      Hi Krystal, they usually go straight to the chest. Some babies are covered in vernix, which if rubbed into their skin is very nourishing. My babies, which were all born about two weeks past my “due date,” didn’t have much vernix. :)

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  29. Sarah says:

    Yes, Daddy AND I did skin to skin immediately after birth. I snuggled her for quite sometime and then breastfed before she was handled by others. My husband was deploying within 2 weeks for 6 months so we requested our own room and the wish was granted. Daddy, sweet baby and I all shared a twin bed that night and were looked at oddly but easy ignored them. After getting home I made sure that Daddy had skin to skin time with her, as much as possible really. Also, weeks prior to the delivery I made him sleep with a blanket inside of his shirt and when he would awaken he would seal it in a ziploc bag. After deploying I allowed the blanket to remain close to her when sleeping. To this day, she’s 4, they have A very close bond. I believe that it thanks to the immediate contact, the skin to skin and the blanket. Can’t stress how important it is.

  30. Melissa says:

    I did skin to skin with my twin sons almost immediately after birth…. I had a c section and they were a month early, so a dr exam was a must. I had them on me within 40 minutes and they pretty much stayed there until we left the hospital. I loved every second of it. They are now 4 months old, AWESOME nursers and still love some diaper-only snuggle time with mama!

  31. Angela says:

    I love this! I still do kangaroo care with my 20-month-old “baby” and two-year-old twins! Why not? :)

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  33. Heidi says:

    I didn’t do skin to skin with my first but I did with my next 2! It is the most unbelievable experience in the world. I could cry just thinking about it. I wish I could go back in time and do it again! There is nothing in the world as comforting as that. I think it makes a huge difference. My husband and I both did it. I think it’s a must for the dad’s!!

  34. MeLP says:

    Up to what age is skin to skin beneficial? My 7 month old cannot stay asleep unless he knows/feels/smells his parents on either side of him. If we all go to bed together and stay in bed together he sleeps like a champ. Otherwise he wakes up every hour until both my husband and I are sleeping next to him. He feeds on demand but I have found that I’m more of a pacifier at night.

  35. Keren says:

    All 3 of mine were preemies (27 week twins and a 31 week singleton). I was fortunate enough to live close enough to a designated baby-friendly hospital w/ a level III NICU. They actively encourage kangaroo care. With my twins my husband and I would kangaroo for hours. As long as they were stable and regulating their temperature we’d kangaroo for an hour (at first) and them from feeding time to feeding time (3 hours). My youngest made it much further along (31 weeks) and had no major medical problems (unlike his older siblings who were touch and go for 2 months). I’d kangaroo him for hours on end. The nurses would put him on my bare chest and let me hold him until I wanted to leave for the day (or need a bathroom break).

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  37. Kate says:

    This might be a silly question but how do you do this exactly? Are you topless at home for the first 3 months with baby in a carrier?

    • Heather says:

      There are shirts that will allow you to tuck baby inside (like the NuRoo). I didn’t have one, so I just wore a soft, loose fitting button down shirt that I could adjust as needed or a light bathrobe most of the time.

  38. SM says:

    I am not a mom (or even a wife or a girlfriend yet….heck, I don’t even have a date lined up), but I LOVE your posts and advice. I pin them now so I can incorporate them later. Thank you.

  39. Beth says:

    I also often feel like I am not doing much differently and our third baby is so content and sweet, and such a good sleeper it is amazing. Easy third babies are an enormous blessing, even if the first ones were not particularly difficult! Our little guy nursed for 45 minutes immediately after birth and then stayed awake and alert for 4 hours. Crazy. I now have one of those babies that parenting/baby training books always talk about but I thought were mythical 😉

  40. Roxana says:

    I did skin-to-skin with my baby after my c section. My thoughts about it? Its not easy. My baby was a little bit larger that my chest and my belly was huge. There was not enough space for her to make contact with me. I do recall one day, she was a week old and I put her on my chest but I was wearing something. She crawled and reached my nipple and started suckling. It wasn’t always like that. Sometimes I felt warm, she felt warm and we could stand it. I had problems breastfeeding too and after I when back to work, it was really hard to keep bf. I’m now trying to relactate. I heard skin to skin helps relactation. I’m doing it again, but it is still difficult. I really don’t know what I’m doing wrong. She seems to be uncomfortable and I’m uncomfortable. I don’t know how to make it work.

  41. Sara says:

    What if the placenta is stuck and your midwife wants you to pee in the shower or something? That was why i wasn’t able to do skin to skin longer than an hour. Suggestions?? Thanks!

  42. Freya says:

    I discussed with my midwife doing skin to skin after my baby’s birth, and the event of a c section which was a high possibility for me. I ended up with a c section and when the doctor’s were swaddling my baby my midwife was very adamant that we have skin to skin. It was so perfect, I felt very removed from my birth and the whole experience but when I felt him on me it was all okay. I got to have him on me for about 20 min and then when they had to changed beds and take me to recovery my midwife brought our baby to his dad and they did skin to skin until I was ready. I would highly recommend putting skin to skin in your birth plan and your just in case c section plan, if i didn’t have my midwife advocating for me I’m not sure the doctors would have let me.

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