The One Thing Fathers Should Do with Their Newborns

Elise Solé
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Photo by Getty Image

You already know that skin-to-skin contact boasts loads of health benefits for newborns — stronger immunity, decreased stress, better brain development, and higher breastfeeding rates, just to name a few. The act has even been known to perform miracles. Back in 2010, a premature baby pronounced dead shortly after he was born, was revived to life after his mother cuddled him. Pretty cool. 

However, for women who undergo cesarean sections, skin-to-skin is more complicated. According to a new article published in the journal Nursing for Women’s Health, the logistics of C-sections — mother and baby are separated by a curtain during surgery, mental and physical fatigue from pain medicine, and time spent in recovery rooms away from babies — make skin-to-skin a challenge. 

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I can relate. My son was born via C-section and I didn’t witness his first gasps of air or his face dissolve into his first scream. And it was a solid 30 minutes before I was allowed to meet and hold him in my arms for the first time. Fortunately, my husband, who had been standing over me during the procedure, got to experience all of that, including skin-to-skin contact. 

Curious how common it is for men to get in on this bonding ritual, I took an informal poll among my mom friends and the responses varied — some insisted that their husbands hold their babies right away but others shared that their partners expressed surprise at the notion or admitted that it didn’t occur to them to reach for their newborns right away. 

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“Many men don’t feel comfortable with skin-to-skin in part because they play such a secondary role in the birthing process,” Sara Chana, a New York City-based board certified lactation consultant and doula, tells Yahoo Parenting. “But the truth is, women are exhausted after delivery and if they aren’t able to hold their babies, fathers can step in and offer the same physiological benefits to their children.” 

Science substantiates that — one study published in the journal Birth found that infants placed in their father’s arms immediately after birth felt more comforted and calm, cried less, and reached a peaceful, drowsy state more quickly than babies who were simply swaddled and laid on nearby cots. And the fuzzy feelings are mutual — during skin-to-skin, the male body pumps out high levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin, along with other endorphins and euphoric neurotransmitters that help foster that baby-daddy connection. Recognizing the need for fathers to bond with their new families, many hospitals provide overnight accommodations for men, schedule bath time in the evenings so fathers can participate after work, and even conduct tests while the baby is lying in a parent’s arms, in order to maximize bonding time. 

For dads who want to try skin-to-skin, the sooner the better. “The baby has been in a sterile environment for nine months and needs to be colonized with ‘good’ bacteria as soon as possible to strengthen his or her immune system,” says Chana. “Fathers can transfer it to their babies because they share the same DNA.” As for guys who are jittery and sweaty after spending hours or days in the delivery room? Even better. “The sweatier the man, the more bacteria he has to share,” says Chana. “Holding the baby close to the armpit is the best position.”

However, if your guy didn’t do skin-to-skin with your newborn, don’t stress. “Babies always benefit from physical touch,” says Chana. “As long as both parents provide regular affection to a child, he or she will grow up happy and healthy.”