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When Dwayne Johnson announced the birth of his newest daughter, Tiana Gia, he shared a picture of himself cradling Tiana against his bare chest. Immediately, Twitter users pounced and cracked jokes about the shirtless actor. But instead of laughing it off, Johnson laid the smackdown about skin-to-skin contact.
“Nurse: would you like to hold your new baby?
"@The Rock: hold on, let me take my shirt off,” Twitter user Allison Taylor wrote.
While Johnson laughed, he took the chance to offer a serious reply.
“Good one! Buuuuut one day when you have babies Allison you’ll understand the power of skin to skin,” he wrote.
Johnson is right: Skin-to-skin contact makes a mighty impact.
“It has been demonstrated to give benefits to both the baby and the parents,” said Dr. Christine Greves, a doctor at the Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology at Orlando Health. “It activates oxytocin release and reduces anxiety."
Oxytocin, aka the cuddle hormone, fosters bonding between people. The body releases it after sex and during and after childbirth in women to encourage closeness. When parents hold their diaper-clad babies to their bare chests both baby and parent receive a boost of oxytocin.
“It makes the parents feel better, calm and more relaxed,” Greves said.
But skin-to-skin-contact, also called kangaroo care, provides huge benefits to babies, too. Babies who receive skin-to-skin contact bond better with parents, act more relaxed, display lower heart and breathing rates and have more stable sugar and temperature levels. And there’s another amazing benefit.
“Babies don't cry as much,” Greves said.
Skin-to-skin care first started in the 1990s to help babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, she said. When doctors noticed how effective it was in helping preemies bond with their parents and gain weight, they recommended it for full-term babies, too.
"Babies have decreased stress," she said. “Babies need to feel loved ... they can get it from us."
While much of the research on skin-to-skin contact involves moms and babies, some research does look at dads and finds it is just as important.
“It can definitely help with their attachment and it can help foster the parental feelings if the dad does it,” Greves said.
Dads of newborns sometimes feel as if they’re not bonding with babies as much as moms, especially if mom breastfeeds. Skin-to-skin contact boosts that close physical connection between dad and baby.
“He gets enhanced oxytocin levels and he feels more involved, less anxious, more in control of the situation and that he can help,” Greves said. “Dads should not be excluded.”