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Increasing neonatal health care benefits through skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding

Increasing neonatal health care benefits through skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding
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Many parents daydream about the day they will bring a baby into the world and the perfect nurturing experience that is assured to follow. Unfortunately, this is not the reality for every parent.

Some infants are born premature and require widespread medical care in the hospital for an extended period of time. Neonatal Intensive Care Units or NICU’s as they are commonly referred to facilitate this immediate and urgent infant care.

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NICU care is essential to infant well-being and often takes precedence over maternal and infant bonding. Hospital policy regarding NICU visiting hours varies from one institution to another. Visiting hours may begin at 10 am and end at 4pm, or hours may be broken up throughout the day, and a select few hospitals allow 24/7 accesses for parents.

 

Inconsistencies among institutions can create a challenge and barrier for parents who are struggling to bond and experience skin-to-skin contact (SSC) with their infant.

A study shared that SSC leads to significant breastfeeding benefits to both mother and infant. And why should you care about breastfeeding? Breastfeeding provides significant maternal advantages such as: decreased postpartum bleeding and depression, decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, and experiencing increased and immediate weight loss.

Recent reports released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), state that no country in the world supports breastfeeding like they should. The United States is very much a part of these statistics, and the need for further education on the benefits of breastfeeding is more apparent now than ever.

This breastfeeding education extends beyond mothers and should include employers as most women return to work fairly quickly following deliver (WHO).

Infant benefits from breastfeeding include: increased cardiorespiratory and thermal stability which decreases the need for hospitalization in the first week of life for the newborn; the mother’s own gut flora is colonized into the newborn which decreases risk of infection, a decreased occurrence of infectious diseases during that first year of life, and a reduced risk of obesity later in life. By increasing the opportunity for skin-to-skin care, we are allowing for improved rates of breastfeeding and ultimately improved health for the baby.

A pediatrics journal shared that SSC has been correlated with increased maternal milk production and increased breastfeeding duration. Those benefits mentioned have been found to increase maternal patient satisfaction, encourage better quality of infant sleep, and decrease infant pain perception during procedures.

Simple infant procedures, such as heel sticks for example, have benefited greatly from SSC implementation. Skin-to-skin contact was shown to decrease infant cortisol levels and also decrease autonomic pain indicators with preterm infants. Certainly, the largest maternal and infant benefit from SSC application would be the increased breastfeeding duration.

The first two hours of infant life is the greatest critical time to implement breastfeeding. Skin-to-skin contact shared between the mother and infant will help facilitate the physical environment required for successful breastfeeding. Immediately following delivery, the infant is placed on the mother’s chest or abdomen to initiate SSC. Even smaller, intermittent SSC time was found to be effective for establishing successful breastfeeding among NICU infants who were less stable and required multiple technology methods to sustain infant life. While these critically ill NICU infants could not be offered long periods of SSC, infrequent SSC was still beneficial.

Breast milk is the optimal nutrition for infants in the first 6 months of life. Infant and maternal breastfeeding benefits are found to range from decreased risk of newborn infection and risk of obesity to decreased risk of maternal breast and ovarian cancer.

Skin to skin contact provides the best opportunity to facilitate infant breastfeeding. Hospital policies on allowing and facilitating SSC in NICU’s vary greatly from one institution to another. Preterm and otherwise critically ill infants present with fragile lives that require extensive NICU care, and these infants would benefit significantly from SSC facilitated breastfeeding. Hospitals should be encouraged to support and facilitate SSC, in order to increase NICU breastfeeding success.

As UNICEF and the WHO pointed out, national support is critical to breastfeeding success, and no country in the world has yet to provide this type of support. Hospital policies on allowing and facilitating SSC in NICU’s vary greatly from one institution to another. Breast milk is superior to infant formula.

Preterm and otherwise critically ill infants present with fragile lives that require extensive NICU care, and these infants would benefit significantly from SSC facilitated breastfeeding. Hospitals should be encouraged to support and facilitate SSC, in order to increase NICU breastfeeding success.

Rachel Borton is a Professor of Nursing and Director of the Family Nurse Practitioner Program at Bradley University. She is ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center) board-certified as an advanced practice nurse, specializing in family practice.