I recently had the privilege of presenting the “Pure Love” video about the wonders of skin to skin contact to a group of media representatives in Sydney. I discussed the science and biology of mother/baby chemistry during skin to skin contact by sharing the following words from Dr Nils Bergman (who works closely with Dr Susan Ludington). “It is sensations that are the key. The mother’s smell, both from her body but also specifically from her breasts, cause specific brain pathways to fire to the front of the baby’s brain. Smell also sends signals directly to the Amygdala – the emotional processing unit of the brain. It sends a reassuring message (to the baby) that he or she is safe” – hence the calming effect skin to skin contact has on baby’s heart rate and breathing. In addition, “direct skin to skin contact triggers the amygdala to fire another signal to the prefronto orbital cortex – the activation centre for orientation. Consequently skin to skin contact activates signals to the left side of the brain, and the baby reacts by being orientated to approach, in anticipation of reward.” Dr Bergman elaborates further about how development of these brain pathways lays the foundation for the development of the child’s Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence.
But wait, there’s more! The behaviours of the newborn send sensory signals to the mother’s brain that have a profound effect on her. Skin to skin contact and face to face communication with her baby stimulates the release of oxytocin, the love hormone, which, as she gazes intensely at her baby’s face stimulates the release of even more oxytocin. “A mother’s fear centre is inhibited by high oxytocin levels making her fearless to protect her baby. Working with dopamine, caring for her baby is addictively rewarding as the same approach pathway fired in the baby’s brain is also fired in the mother’s brain”. Close contact with baby nuzzling and suckling at the breast causes the release of prolactin which stimulates milk production, while oxytocin release stimulates the “letdown reflex” enabling the colostrum, and later the milk, to flow as the baby breastfeeds. The mother becomes highly sensitised and tuned in to her baby, enabling her to understand her baby’s signals, needs and wants.
Skin to Skin contact is integral to establishing bonding for both breastfeeding and bottle feeding mothers. I emphasise the particular benefits for bottle fed babies who can often miss out on skin to skin contact over the early days and weeks of life. It is enormously beneficial for mothers who are bottle feeding their newborn to hold baby skin to skin during feed times. When a mother cuddles and carries baby enabling frequent and prolonged skin contact, she stimulates both her own and her baby’s brain to fire signals to the amygdala, enhancing the essential bonding and attachment process between mother and baby.
The “Pure Love” video is created by Waterwipes – the ONLY baby wipe free of all chemical additives and a product which I fully endorse. Lois Wattis Clinical Midwife, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Author and creator of New Baby 101 A Midwife’s Guide for New Parents – Book, App and educational “how to” videos for new parents. Visit NewBaby101.com.au for more information.