A study in northern Taiwan has measured increases in father-baby attachment behaviours after learning skin-to-skin contact.
83 fathers participated in a randomised controlled trial. All the fathers were given a leaflet about fathercare, which covered the issue of skin-to-skin, but only half of them were offered hands-on help with it. None of the fathers who weren’t offered help asked for help and none of them practiced skin-to-skin unaided.
The intervention consisted of three 15-minute skin-to-skin sessions over three days. The babies were in an alert and quiet state (just after bathing), the room was warm and comfortable and the skin-to-skin care was supervised, with the baby put in a fetal position on the man’s chest.
After this, all the fathers were asked to complete a Father-Child Attachment Scale questionnaire, covering four areas of fathers’ feelings and behaviours – exploring, touching, caring and talking.
Fathers who had been offered skin-to-skin scored significantly higher on all four measures, in particular touching.
This research confirms the findings covered in a systematic review of the literature on father skin-to-skin contact that we reported on Family Included in August 2016. This review found that father skin-to-skin care has the same effects on the baby as mother skin-to-skin and fathers who practice it become more caring, are more engaged later, talk more with the baby and have more confidence in caring.
The trigger mechanism for these changes is oxytocin, which increases through skin-to-skin care in mothers and fathers alike. Oxytocin is known to trigger caring behaviours and to trigger long-term brain changes that gear the mother and father to more caring behaviours. The more fathers care for their babies, the more their brains change in the way that mothers’ brains change. (See collection of articles on this topic by Eyal Abraham on Fatherhood.Global.)
The Taiwanese researchers recommend a combination of leaflets and demonstrations. The trial demonstrated that leaflets alone don’t work. They recommend that skin-to-skin care should be taught in antenatal classes, in order to ensure more mothers and fathers understand the significance of the practice.
Chen E-M, Gau M-L, Liu C-UY & Lee T-Y (2017), Effects of Father-Neonate Skin-to-Skin Contact on Attachment: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Nursing Research and Practice
Photo: Alan Huang. Creative Commons.