Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants

  • Review
  • Intervention




Mother-infant separation postbirth is common in Western culture. Early skin-to-skin contact (SSC) begins ideally at birth and involves placing the naked baby, covered across the back with a warm blanket, prone on the mother's bare chest. According to mammalian neuroscience, the intimate contact inherent in this place (habitat) evokes neurobehaviors ensuring fulfillment of basic biological needs. This time may represent a psychophysiologically 'sensitive period' for programming future behavior.


To assess the effects of early SSC on breastfeeding, behavior, and physiological adaptation in healthy mother-newborn dyads.

Search methods

Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's and Neonatal Group's Trials Registers (August 2006), Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library 2006, Issue 2), MEDLINE (1976 to 2006).

Selection criteria

Randomized and quasi-randomized clinical trials comparing early SSC with usual hospital care.

Data collection and analysis

We independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. Study authors were contacted for additional information.

Main results

Thirty studies involving 1925 participants (mother-infant dyads), were included. Data from more than two trials were available for only 8-of-64 outcome measures. We found statistically significant and positive effects of early SSC on breastfeeding at one to four months postbirth (10 trials; 552 participants) (odds ratio (OR) 1.82, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.08 to 3.07), and breastfeeding duration (seven trials; 324 participants) (weighted mean difference (WMD) 42.55, 95% CI -1.69 to 86.79). Trends were found for improved summary scores for maternal affectionate love/touch during observed breastfeeding (four trials; 314 participants) (standardized mean difference (SMD) 0.52, 95% CI 0.07 to 0.98) and maternal attachment behavior (six trials; 396 participants) (SMD 0.52, 95% CI 0.31 to 0.72) with early SSC. SSC infants cried for a shorter length of time (one trial; 44 participants) (WMD -8.01, 95% CI -8.98 to -7.04). Late preterm infants had better cardio-respiratory stability with early SSC (one trial; 35 participants) (WMD 2.88, 95% CI 0.53 to 5.23). No adverse effects were found.

Authors' conclusions

Limitations included methodological quality, variations in intervention implementation, and outcome variability. The intervention may benefit breastfeeding outcomes, early mother-infant attachment, infant crying and cardio-respiratory stability, and has no apparent short or long-term negative effects. Further investigation is recommended. To facilitate meta-analysis, future research should be done using outcome measures consistent with those in the studies included here. Published reports should clearly indicate if the intervention was SSC and include means, standard deviations, exact probability values, and data to measure intervention dose.

Plain language summary

Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants

Skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby at birth reduces crying, improves mother-baby interaction, keeps the baby warmer, and helps women breastfeed successfully.

In many cultures, babies are generally cradled naked on their mother's bare chest at birth. Historically, this was necessary for the baby's survival. In recent times, in some societies as more babies are born in hospital, babies are separated or dressed before being given to their mothers. It has been suggested that in industrialized societies, hospital routines may significantly disrupt early mother-infant interactions and have harmful effects. The review was done to see if there was any impact of early skin-to-skin contact between the mother and her newborn baby on infant health, behavior and breastfeeding. The review included 30 studies involving 1925 mothers and their babies. It showed that babies interacted more with their mothers, stayed warmer, and cried less. Babies were more likely to be breastfed, and to breastfeed for longer, if they had early skin-to-skin contact. Babies were also, possibly, more likely to have a good early relationship with their mothers, but this was difficult to measure.