Skin-to-skin contact helps babies thrive

May 15th, 2017
Nicolle Lewis-McTague holds her twins, Parker (left), and Paisley, (right), in the UCHealth Memorial Hospital NICU. Lewis-McTague enjoys skin-to-skin contact with the twins, born April 26.
Nicolle Lewis-McTague holds her twins, Parker (left), and Paisley, (right), in the UCHealth Memorial Hospital NICU. Lewis-McTague enjoys skin-to-skin contact with the twins, born April 26.

Something amazing happens when Nicolle Lewis-McTague holds her twin angels – Parker and Paisley – close to her, skin-to-skin.

The babies’ hearts start to beat in unison, and the breaths they take are synchronized. Wearing only diapers, they lie in an upright position against their mother’s bare chest. They’re tucked under a large T-shirt that Nicolle wears.

Like kangaroos, they are snuggled in, peaceful and secure. While these moments are cherished for Nicolle, she also has peace of mind knowing that skin-to-skin contact is helping her children grow stronger and healthier.

“They love it,’’ Nicolle said. “This helps them with everything they need.’’

Amanda Lupton, a registered nurse in UCHealth Memorial Hospital’s NICU, said evidence shows that babies who experience skin-to-skin contact with their parents receive multiple health benefits.

“Skin-to-skin contact helps stabilize vital signs, regulate body temperature, increase bonding and improves a mother’s milk supply,’’ Lupton said.

Born April 26, Parker weighed 5 pounds, 6 ounces at birth; his sister, Paisley, weighed 4 pounds, 4 ounces. Every day for several hours, Nicolle tucks them under her shirt.

“This is my job – this is what I do for hours,’’ said Nicolle, a school teacher who has two other children, Everett, 10, and Noah, 3, with her husband, Dave.

Amanda Lupton, a registered nurse at UCHealth Memorial Hospital, checks on Parker and Paisley McTague. Parker (right) weighed 5 pounds 6 ounces at birth; his sister, Paisley (left), weighed 4 pounds 4 ounces.
Amanda Lupton, a registered nurse at UCHealth Memorial Hospital, checks on Parker and Paisley McTague. Parker (right) weighed 5 pounds 6 ounces at birth; his sister, Paisley (left), weighed 4 pounds 4 ounces.

In the past couple of weeks, Nicolle and other parents in the NICU have been encouraged to hold their children skin-to-skin as often as possible. In the NICU, the goal was to reach 25,000 minutes of skin-to-skin contact over a two-week period as part of Kangaroo Days, an event held annually to raise awareness of the benefits of skin-to-skin contact.

“The real beneficiaries of this are the babies and the parents,’’ Lupton said. “Our parents have had a really positive response to this.’’

Some of the health benefits for infants include:

  • Improved heart rate, respiratory rate and oxygenation
  • Optimal growth and development
  • Regulation of temperature
  • Transfer of heat from the parent
  • Improved sleep-wake state
  • Improved infant immunity
  • Improved gastrointestinal function
  • Earlier and more successful feeding

Nurses in the NICU also encourage parents whose children cannot yet be held to do “hand containment’’ by placing their hand on the top of the baby’s head, and on the bottom of their feet.

Since nurses in the NICU are required to wear gloves when caring for the children, skin-to-skin contact and hand containment offer babies the sense of human touch.

Lupton said that skin-to-skin contact is something that parents should do with their children up until the age of 1.

“Babies hear their parents’ voices, they know their smell and they can get very good, deep sleep,’’ Lupton said. “Everybody is helped by this – it’s so good for the baby to be on your skin.’’

This photo shows a personalized book that Child Life specialists at UCHealth Memorial Hospital created to help siblings understand what happens in a NICU.
Child Life specialists at UCHealth Memorial Hospital created a personalized book to help siblings understand what happens in a NICU.

Nicolle said that while spending several weeks in the NICU, the nurses and techs at Memorial “become your second family.’’ She said the clinical staff has been terrific about educating parents about the benefits of skin-to-skin contact.

Parker and Paisley have gained weight since they were born, and they’re doing well. Though they are only a few weeks old, they seem to have a language between them – a togetherness.

“When she stirs, he will stir. And when she fusses, he’ll fuss too,’’ Nicolle said.

As they lie on their mother’s chest, there’s no stirring or fussing. Just bliss.

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.