Newborns Benefit From Skin-to-Skin Contact With Father After C-Section

By Linda Carroll

January 07, 2021

(Reuters Health) - Newborns separated from their mothers due to a cesarean-section delivery fared better when they received skin-to-skin contact with their father versus simply being held by the father while clothed or left alone in a crib, a new study finds.

Analysis of data on 95 infants showed that those who received skin-to-skin contact from fathers had significantly higher heart rates and wakefulness than babies without this contact, according to the report in Acta Paediatrica.

"After births with complications, mothers are often not available to their babies for contact," said the study's lead author, Ana Ayala, a PhD student in the division of reproductive health at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and the women's national program of the Ministry of Health of Chile, in Santiago.

"A father providing skin-to-skin contact with his newborn immediately after a cesarean birth offers the same calming and comforting benefits as a mother," Ayala said in an email. "Father's skin-to-skin contact did not entail any negative effects on the infant and should therefore be supported during periods of mother-infant separation."

To explore the impact on newborns of their fathers' skin-to-skin touch, Ayala and her colleagues recruited 95 couples who agreed to having the researchers randomly assign their newborns to one of three different care groups. When the babies were born, 32 were kept in a crib at some distance from their fathers' body; 34 were dressed and lying in their fathers' arms; and 29 were placed skin-to-skin on their fathers' chests.

The children's physiological parameters - temperature, heart rate and peripheral oxygen saturation - were assessed after 30 minutes under a heater, and then at 15-minute intervals, from 45 to 120 minutes after the C-section.

Heart rate in the skin-to-skin group was significantly higher than in the crib group by an average of 10.5 beats per minute (bpm), and was more stable over time, the authors note. In the crib group there was a significant decrease in heart rate over time from an average of 143 bpm to 138 bpm at 120 minutes.

The average heart rate in the skin-to-skin group was also higher than among the infants who were clothed while held in their fathers' arms.

Wakefulness was measured six times at 15-minute intervals. The skin-to-skin group showed a higher state of wakefulness at 60 minutes than either of the other groups. At 105 and 120 minutes, those differences had disappeared and all the infants presented a decreased state of wakefulness at this point.

Dr. Craig Garfield welcomed the new study.

"I think it's really interesting," said Dr. Garfield, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and the Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. "We're always looking for ways to involve fathers. They want to be involved but are not sure how. Every father I've ever talked to says they're afraid of breaking the baby. So, a study like this shows very proactive ways fathers can be involved."

He added, "Letting fathers do skin-to-skin with infants when their moms are incapacitated is wonderful."

Dr. Garfield's group is currently measuring the effects of skin-to-skin contact not just on infants, but also on their parents. "My hypothesis is that this also benefits the father," he said. "They feel more comfortable and confident taking care of the baby."

The study shows that giving a baby skin-to-skin contact is beneficial to the child and it probably doesn't matter who is supplying it, said Linda Dudas of Magee Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh. "It could be the father, or a significant other," she said. "Skin-to-skin contact helps with the baby's autoregulation."

SOURCE: Acta Paediatrica, online January 6, 2021.