Background: Early skin-to-skin contact involves placing the naked baby prone on the mother's bare chest at birth or soon afterwards (< 24 hour). This could represent a 'sensitive period' for priming mothers and infants to develop a synchronous, reciprocal, interaction pattern, provided they are together and in intimate contact. Routine separation shortly after hospital birth is a uniquely Western cultural phenomenon that may be associated with harmful effects including discouragement of successful breastfeeding.
Objectives: To assess the effects of early skin-to-skin contact on breastfeeding, behavior, and physiology in mothers and their healthy newborn infants.
Search strategy: The Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group and Neonatal Group trials registers (December 2002), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library, Issue 4, 2002), MEDLINE (1976 to 2002).
Selection criteria: Randomized and quasi-randomized clinical trials comparing early skin-to-skin contact with usual hospital care.
Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. We contacted study authors for additional information. We collected adverse effects information from the trials.
Main results: Seventeen studies, involving 806 participants, were included. We found statistically significant and positive effects of early skin-to-skin contact on breastfeeding at one to three months postbirth (odds ratio (OR) 2.15, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.10 to 4.22), breastfeeding duration (weighted mean difference (WMD) 41.99, 95% CI 13.97 to 70.00), maintenance of infant temperature in the neutral thermal range (OR 12.18, 95% CI 2.04 to 72.91), infant blood glucose (WMD 11.07, 95% CI 3.97 to 18.17), infant crying (OR 21.89, 95% CI 5.19 to 92.30) and summary scores of maternal affectionate love/touch (SMD 0.73, 95% CI 0.36 to 1.11) during an observed breastfeeding within the first few days postbirth. We found no statistically significant benefit of early skin-to-skin contact for other major clinical variables: breastmilk maturation, maternal chest circumference, infant heart rate.
Reviewer's conclusions: Limitations included the methodological quality of the studies, variations in the implementation of the intervention and outcome variability. Early skin-to-skin contact appears to have some clinical benefit especially regarding breastfeeding outcomes and infant crying and has no apparent short or long-term negative effects. Further investigation is recommended. To facilitate meta-analysis of the data, future research in this area should involve outcome measures consistent with those used in the studies included here. Published reports should also clearly indicate if the intervention was skin-to-skin contact and include means, standard deviations and exact probability values.