The fetus spends nearly 10 months in utero listening to the sounds of the mother’s body and her voice. Immediately after birth most infants are rushed off to the nursery or placed in a bassinet beside mom. According to researchers, separating infants from their mothers causes stress. Humans are the only species practicing infant/mother separation immediately after birth. Researchers noted that animal studies on stress use infant/mother separation to study how the brain reacts to stress. Yet, separating new mothers from infants is considered acceptable in western society.
Researchers compared autonomic and sleep patterns of infants during skin to skin contact and separation from the mother. During skin to skin contact, infants experienced less stress and slept more soundly. When infants were separated from the mother, there was a 176% increase in autonomic activity and an 86% decrease in calming sleep.
In some cases, the infant must be separated from the mother at birth, particularly when the infant needs additional medical care as is the case with preterm births, but separated the infant from the mother in normal births could cause undue stress on the infant. Researchers acknowledge that additional studies are needed to prove whether the increased stress causes long-term effects, including potential effects on neurological development.
In a 2007 study, researchers found that skin to skin contact between father and infant was just as beneficial as skin to skin contact with the mother. This information could be highly useful when mothers are recovering from C-section delivery and unable to hold baby immediately after birth.
Researchers hope this study will push doctors and hospitals to incorporate skin to skin contact into post-birth care plans. More skin to skin contact could reduce hospital stays and reduce the risk of developmental delays, in some cases.
Source: Barak E. Morgan, Alan R. Horn, Nils J. Bergman. Biological Psychiatry. 2 November, 2011.