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The benefits of skin-to-skin contact with mom and baby on feeding your 35-38 weeker

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

Kim’s new baby is HERE! She decided to join us a month early! Maeve is 5lbs, 13oz of PERFECTION and Kim is as healthy, joyful, & exhausted as you’d expect.

Born at 36 weeks picture

Both mama and baby are doing well but we would be lying if we said these days are super easy on Kim. As we noted in our previous post, early term and late preterm babies are often super sleepy and teaching your 36 week premature baby to eat can be a little challenging! They can have trouble waking up for feeds, they may show inconsistent feeding cues, 36 weekers often fall asleep shortly after starting the feeding, they can go from sleeping to screaming and inconsolable in no time, 35-38 weekers tend to have small mouths which can make it hard to get a good latch which can lead to poor weight gain or bloody painful nipples for mom or even lead to low milk supply. Parents of early term or late preterm infants often have to work even harder in those first few weeks in general and especially with feeding compared to full term 39-41 weekers.

Getting your 36 weeker breastfeeding

Helping your new 35-38 week baby learn to eat may be challenging but it’s not impossible and there are some techniques, interventions, and strategies you can use to help. One very simple yet highly effective intervention that all new moms should be using to help their 34, 35, 36, 37, and 38 weeker learn to eat is skin-to-skin holding.

Not only is this intervention super valuable for helping your baby learn to eat, it’s also one of the most effective calming / temperature regulating / pain management interventions available for newborns.

Skin-to-skin holding or kangaroo care with a 36 week baby

It’s as simple as holding your naked (diapered) baby against your bare chest as often as possible in those first few weeks. The hardest part? Not falling asleep when that oxytocin kicks in! ♥️♥️♥️ 😴

Skin-to-skin care with a 36 week old baby (really with all new babies) is incredibly helpful for getting your baby regulated and organized for breastfeeding. While moms often worry that baby is too sleepy in skin-to-skin, baby needs that sleep to organize and develop their nervous system. If it becomes challenging for your baby to wake for feeds adding in some pumped or donated breast milk (ask your Hospital if they can provide this) or formula using a syringe or Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) during your feeding may be one way to improve your baby’s sleepiness without sacrificing the skin-to-skin care!

Benefits of skin-to-skin on premature babies

When you hold your newborn against your chest in a “heart-to-heart” or skin-to-skin position your baby gets a wonderful mix of calming input and stimulating sensory input (touch, smell, warmth, stability). Research shows that this position allows a mom’s nervous system to help regulate the baby’s nervous system (literally changes baby’s temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate!) in a way that supports your baby’s ability to sleep, wake up, be calm, and eat.

Skin-to-skin holding also calms the person doing the holding and helps bond mom (or partner) to baby which increases confidence and reduces anxiety.

In this position your baby’s amygdala (brain center for emotions and for fear and danger) is stimulated along with their frontal lobe (thinking/planning part of the brain) which helps to slowly build a brain connection between those 2 areas. That connection allows your thinking brain to work along with your more “emotional” brain which helps lay the very early foundational brain architecture for social emotional intelligence (Watson Genna, 2017).

A few tips on how to do skin-to skin holding to make it as beneficial as possible:

♥️ Grab yourself a snack & water

♥️ Strip baby down to a diaper

♥️ Place baby between your breasts

♥️ Cover yourselves with a blanket

♥️ Help baby bring hands up next to their face

♥️ Take deep breaths & relax

Let's hear it for the partners!

A lot of people ask, can my partner do skin-to skin holding with the baby? Is it still beneficial if dad is the one holding baby skin-to-skin? And the answer is, yes! It’s not just mom who can do skin-to skin. Skin-to-skin care can be done with partner too and can be a useful way to support baby with calming and getting deep sleep in between feedings for the first several weeks.

Because 35-37 weekers can be so disorganized we recommend holding them often in skin-to-skin throughout the day, which can get exhausting if you don’t have help from a partner. This is another reason we like to confirm, yes, dads and all partners can provide many of the same benefits as mom when holding baby skin-to-skin and it’s a great way to give mom a break.

We didn’t get to do skin-to-skin after birth. Is it too late to start now?

If your baby is a few weeks or even a few months old, it’s not too late to start doing skin-to-skin holding. There’s no downside or negative impact to skin-to-skin care and your baby’s brain is developing over those first several months after birth, so go ahead and start today with your 1-3 month old! It’s especially effective at helping early term or late preterm babies calm and sleep, which both can help baby be more organized while eating.

Now we don’t want to imply that this is the only thing you need to do to get your early term or late preterm baby breastfeeding. Skin-to-skin care is just one element for helping your baby nurse (or bottle feed for that matter) and grow successfully. We’re going to talk more about Kim’s story over the next few weeks and we will take a look at the Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) as well as formula and nipple shields to help support breastfeeding in your 36 weeker!

Do you know a new mama or expecting mama who could use this info? Share with them! We love providing resources for parents and would love to reach as many parents as possible with this important information!

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