Skin-to-skin contact is

SSC makes the brain feel safe, which makes an approach orientation toward the breast; and then ensures sleep cycling between meals.

Human babies are born with the ability to breastfeed. But this ability depends on the right sensations … specifically mother’s smell and warmth. The exact behaviors have been described in detail … but the important thing is that they are behaviors that the newborn must do of his own accord. If these are disturbed, the coding of pathways and hormone receptors  inside the brain is also disturbed, and disruption of the bonding and feeding capacity results. The first hour of life should be completely undisturbed. (Observations can be done without disturbance, and almost all other care can safely wait.)  Skin-to-skin contact is essential is establishing – initiating – breastfeeding.

Once breastfeeding is initiated, skin-to-skin contact remains the needed stimulus for the normal behavioural program of the newborn. At first this program has only two major parts: eating and sleeping. When baby wakes on mother’s chest, the breasts are near and very little work is required to get to them and to feed. After feeding the baby goes to sleep, and research has shown that only on mother’s body is this sleep  of the right quality for brain wiring. Sleep cycling is necessary for brain development, and SSC achieves REM sleep cycling with Quiet Sleep. When the baby wakes on mother, there is time for smell to initiate a cephalic phase preparing the stomach for food, so that when the baby starts to feed it is primed and prepared, and organized in its feeding. (Later play becomes vital for development).

Notice that it is the actual feeding which is having the essential effect on brain development. Breastfeeding is not primarily a “nutrition” concern – it is about development. During actual breastfeeding, more than any other time, ALL the sensations are firing and wiring brain circuits, and now in an integrated manner. It is the integration of circuits that makes the networks coordinated. Having said which, the nutritional value of milk is unsurpassed, and essential for well-being. Interestingly though, some scientists believe that milk may have started as a protective function, and then later become nutritional. It is the protective factors in human milk that make it vastly superior to anything artificial.

Despite various reports in popular press and reductionist science, there is adequate evidence that breastfeeding is vital for health and development. It is supported and promoted by the WHO and most professional academies. But some of this discussion is confused in the evidence for breast milk in isolation from breastfeeding, in isolation from skin-to-skin contact. Each of these individually have “regulation” effects, and it is the totality of them that makes the difference. And importantly notice the proper order … it is skin-to-skin contact that makes the breastfeeding, and breastfeeding that makes the breast  milk.  If our public health focus was only on skin-to-skin contact and avoiding separation, the breastfeeding would happen of itself, and the benefits of breast milk likewise. 


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