Putting a baby on a parent's chest immediately after he or she is born is not just a chance for parents to coo over their newborn — it's also an important first step in establishing how the baby responds to touch.
Skin-to-skin contact, or kangaroo care, as it's also known, involves a baby lying upright on one of his or her parents, and has been shown to help result in decreased crying, heart rate stabilization and quicker weight gain, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
The hand of a baby orphan from Liberia, West Africa, being held in the fingers of a volunteer.
And now, a new study published in Current Biology emphasizes the importance of this physical contact, and how necessary it can be not just in the first moments of life, but continuing forward throughout the newborn stage.
The study, which looked at premature babies in a hospital setting who are often the recipients of medical treatments, saw a difference in the response of babies who received gentle touch from a parent or hospital caregiver versus those who received a "sham" touch (i.e. a puff of air from a nozzle). The babies' brain responses were shown to be stronger when the touch came from a person, demonstrating the importance of physical contact for preemies.
Full-term babies, however, also benefit hugely from this behaviour, in many cases having a stronger response to touch than the premature babies. As the study notes, this reaction helps lay the groundwork for the child's perceptive, social and cognitive development.
Father holding his newborn against his chest.
Past research has shown the benefits of skin-to-skin for low birth weight babies, as well as the positive effect it can have on mothers with regards to breastfeeding, and even reducing postpartum depression. Similar bonding has been demonstrated for fathers as well.
So regardless of the rest of the advice you'll be getting as the parent of a newborn, it appears one thing is certain: holding that baby close for the first few weeks can only help all of you in the long run — and gives you even more of a chance to bond.
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