We’ve recently learned that a dad’s interactions can impact a child’s social and emotional health for the first 10 years, but likely much longer, even beyond the immediate postnatal period. Skin to skin can help.
Much of preparing for birth and the postnatal period revolves around mother and baby. Indeed, both work incredibly hard for a good reason, and both deserve those amazing moments in the first hour after birth. However, more research continues to surface about the importance of dad’s role during birth and the postnatal period.
Dr. Nils Bergman recently presented at the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. He shared current research about the importance of skin to skin. What he shared, which isn’t as commonly discussed, is how important skin to skin time is for dad because it actually rewires his brain.
Why is skin-to-skin so important for dad?
Skin to skin time is often suggested as an optimal activity to give your baby a better start. However, research now shows that we shouldn’t look at skin to skin as something to do to boost our baby’s start in life, but rather look at it as the biological norm.
Skin to skin between mother and baby immediately after birth is the biological norm, but how does this relate to dad?
According to Dr. Nils Bergman, just 30 minutes of skin to skin with dad actually rewires dad’s brain. Mothers have the advantage of the natural hormonal changes during and immediately following birth, especially the hormone oxytocin, to help their maternal instincts kick in.
For dad, time spent with and caring for the baby helps the bonding process, but skin to skin actually rewires his brain to help paternal instincts develop.
How does skin-to-skin rewire a dad’s brain?
Many of our bodily processes are run by and impacted by our hormones. Our hormones are influenced by many things, including our environment and actions. When dad spends time skin to skin with his newborn, hormonal changes occur, including a rise in dopamine.
Dopamine is responsible for many things, including pleasure. A surge in dopamine and oxytocin release means dad’s brain creates a positive association with close interaction with the baby. It seems that skin to skin with dad can help natural parenting instincts kick in.
Why is this important?
Certainly, many dads have gone without skin to skin contact and been excellent, hands-on parents. It isn’t something that, if skipped, will mean an insecure parental bond.
However, it does seem that research shows this natural rewiring can be an essential part of early parenting. Perhaps it’s something to do with a positive biological association with a baby. When it’s 2 am, and the baby is crying (again), that positive association could mean coping just a bit better.
Read next: Postpartum Self-Care Tips for New Moms
When the baby is fussing with her mom, it could mean stepping in without a request to offer a hand. It might mean being just a bit more confident in being more hands-on. Or opting to wear or hold the baby rather than swaddling or putting in the swing for extended periods (baby gear isn’t inherently wrong but can be overused).
While what happens on the first day or so of life isn’t the end all be all of the parental success, it can and does play a role in baby’s development and parental child bonds.
Rewiring the brain to seek a baby’s close contact can mean an easier transition for dad, baby, and mother.
We often hear about the importance of skin to skin between mother and baby. It helps prevent postnatal bleeding, aids in beginning lactation, and helps stabilize the baby’s breathing and temperature.
We don’t always hear about the importance of skin to skin with dad. Baby benefits from any close contact, but it seems in this situation, dad also has a lot to gain biologically from practicing skin to skin. By encouraging this contact on the first day of life, we can help dads positively begin parenthood.