Can dads benefit from the skin-to-skin approach?

Posted on 26 October 2017

When dads provide skin-to-skin contact – or kangaroo care – for their newborns, it not only helps tired moms. It ensures a greater bond between dad and baby too. An expert at Mediclinic Panorama explains why.

The first hours of your newborn’s life are vital not only to stabilise their little bodies, but to introduce them caringly to a new world and family. This is why within two hours of birth, Mediclinic’s maternity teams ensure that both mom and dad have started skin-to-skin contact – also known as kangaroo care – with their infant. This sees your baby snuggling up to your bare chest and enjoying a protected introduction.

‘After a newborn has been examined post-delivery, they’re placed on their mother’s chest skin-to-skin,’ explains Sister Anna Duarte, a registered midwife, nurse and antenatal/birth educator at Mediclinic Panorama. ‘When a mother is taken to the recovery room, it’s common practice at Mediclinic that the baby is placed onto the father’s chest for a golden 30 minutes in the nursery. Dads are encouraged to perform kangaroo care as much as moms.’

During the first 24 hours when moms are receiving opioids for pain and are immobile, or when they’re showering or eating, dads provide the care. ‘They also participate in kangaroo care for preterm babies, normally for one to two hours at a time once the baby is stable,’ says Sr Duarte.

What are the benefits of kangaroo care?

Its many benefits for baby include effective thermal and heart rate control, says Sr Duarte. It’s also important for your baby’s developing brain,’ she says.

It’s particularly vital for premature babies’ stabilisation as it helps them fight infection, helps with weight gain, stabilises their organ function and ensures they leave hospital sooner. ‘It also helps parents feel they’re contributing positively to the care of their medically vulnerable baby,’ she adds.

Continuing kangaroo care at home assists in ensuring your baby’s physical, emotional and psychological health.

For more on the benefits of kangaroo care and how to apply it, read this article.

Why dads should provide kangaroo care

It’s as important for fathers to bond physically and emotionally with their babies as it is for moms – and just like moms, dads provide all the advantages of kangaroo care to their newborn,’ says Sr Duarte. ‘Fathers report stronger bonding, increased confidence and a deeper satisfaction that they’re able to do something special for their babies.’

A 2007 study in the journal Birth, reported that when fathers applied skin-to-skin care, their babies stopped crying, became calmer and reached a drowsy state earlier than infants left in cots. The researchers also found that fathers also facilitated the development of the infants’ pre-feeding behaviour.

Do mothers have stronger bonds with their babies than fathers do?

In general, moms do have a closer bond at birth, says Sr Duarte. ‘However, the assumption that moms bond more strongly with their babies depends on many factors.’ These include whether it was a wanted pregnancy and what the couple’s relationship was like pre-pregnancy. ‘I don’t believe only in “natural motherly instincts” as some moms don’t have a natural bond,’ Sr Duarte adds. ‘I truly believe that most things are learnt and this applies to dads too.’

In fact, fathers also experience rises in the bonding hormone oxytocin as a result of their interaction with their babies, according to a 2010 study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. A 2013 study in Nature found that the ability of parents to differentiate the cries of their own infant from those of others was directly linked to the amount of time the parent spends with their infant, rather than their gender.

‘These days fathers are encouraged to be involved right from preconception to antenatal care through birth and beyond,’ Sr Duarte. ‘The only thing they can’t do is incubate the baby for 40 weeks and breastfeed them.’

Andrew Cunningham had both his daughters at Mediclinic hospitals and agrees that immediate skin-to-skin contact helped him bond with them. ‘We’re all very close and I’m a hands-on dad. It was great to feel part of the action right from the beginning of their lives. I bonded with them as soon as I saw them, but the skin-to-skin contact cemented the bond and made us realise how important I am in their lives from the word go’.


In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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