A literature review on father-infant skin-to-skin contact (SSC) found that it has positive impacts on babies, on fathers and on family relationships.
The review, led by Dr Shefaly Shorey at the National University of Singapore, covered 12 studies including two quantitative ones. 10 of the studies were in developed countries, one in India and one in Colombia.
The 12 research studies that were reviewed found the following.
Impact on the baby
- Father SSC is as effective as mother SSC in raising a baby’s temperature and there is no difference between father and mother skin-to-skin on biophysical measures of the baby’s expenditure of energy. (Sweden, Germany)
- Babies experiencing father SSC had significantly higher blood glucose levels (protection from cold) than babies who were left instead in an incubator. (Sweden)
- Babies who experienced father SSC showed lower levels of salivary cortisol when handled, indicating a lower stress response. (Sweden)
- Babies receiving father SSC were more easily comforted and stopped crying more quickly than babies left in the cot. (Sweden)
- Pre-feeding behaviours, such as rooting and sucking activities, were less frequent among the infants who received father SSC, which meant that they were calmer than the infants placed in the cot. Infants receiving father SSC started breastfeeding a little later than those receiving SSC only from their mothers. (Sweden)
- Two studies found small differences between mother and father SSC. A Swedish study found that father SSC was more effective than mother SSC in comforting a crying baby but mother SSC led to less whining. A Canadian study found that the baby’s pain response was marginally less during a blood test. But the differences are small and could be due to other factors (e.g. a mother may be more likely to take charge of a fussy baby).
Impact on father
- Fathers who provided SSC to preterm infants exhibited more caring behaviours and developed a more sensitive approach to their infants. (India)
- After a pre-term birth, father SSC was linked to better cognitive development of the baby and more engagement at home by the father (as reported by the mother). (Colombia)
- Paternal oxytocin levels were significantly increased and cortisol levels were significantly decreased during and after SSC. Oxytocin is linked to love and care, cortisol to anxiety. Fathers who provided SSC felt less stress, less anxious, and had better relationship with the mother. (USA, Sweden)
- Father SSC, like mother SSC, promotes verbal interaction between infant and parent within minutes of the birth, based on measurements from Caesarean births. The difference was stronger for infant boys. (Sweden)
- Fathers who have experienced SSC feel more in control when handling unexpected situations and participated more in infant care. (Denmark, Sweden)
The authors conclude that father-infant skin-to-skin contact is a valuable alternative to mother-infant skin-to-skin, especially during the unavailability of mothers due to special circumstances, including medical emergencies and Caesarean section.
The Family Included team recommends that father-infant skin-to-skin should always be encouraged where the father is present and positively engaged, because it has a biological basis that transcends culture. It is the mechanism by which the caring instincts of men are triggered, via hormonal and neurobiological changes, which in turn is the basis for all the improved outcomes observed for greater paternal involvement in care. Encouraging father-infant skin-to-skin is part of the Family Included Charter.
Shorey S et al. (2016), Skin-to-skin contact by fathers and the impact on infant and paternal outcomes: an integrative review, Midwifery
Picture: Philip Baawuo practices kangaroo care with his prematurely born son. © UNICEF/UNI193576/Quarmyne. Permission sought.