Skin-to-Skin Contact Promotes Maternal Attachment Behaviors
Attachment is so necessary for survival of the newborn mammal, that nature has not left it to chance, and has provided biochemical activators that prime the brain's reward circuitry to increase maternal care-giving behaviors. Hormones known to influence attachment behaviors are increased by skin-to-skin contact. This is true in adults as well, but is especially important in the vulnerable newborn period. Oxytocin is one such hormone that has been particularly well studied in relationship to attachment and is often referred to as the "love hormone." It has been shown to increase relaxation, attraction, facial recognition, and maternal care-giving behaviors, all necessary to ensure infant survival. Oxytocin is increased during skin-to-skin contact and levels spike whenever the newborn's hand massages mother's breasts.
Multiple studies in the 1970–1980s compared behaviors of mothers who had short periods (as little as 15 minutes) of skin-to-skin contact with their newborns to those who briefly viewed their infants and then were reunited every 4 hours for feeding while the babies were otherwise kept in a nursery separate from their mothers. At the end of the postpartum hospital stay, mothers who had even brief early skin-to-skin contact with their infants were more confident and comfortable handling and caring for their babies than mothers who had been separated from their babies.
Results lasted well beyond the neonatal period. At 3 months, mothers with early skin-to-skin contact kissed their babies more and spent more time looking into their infant's faces. At 1 year they demonstrated more touching, holding, and positive speaking behaviors, kept more follow-up appointments with their primary care providers and breastfed their babies longer. One study showed double the breastfeeding duration associated with only 15 minutes of skin-to-skin holding immediately after birth.
NAINR. 2013;13(2):67-72. © 2013 Elsevier Science, Inc.