Background: Previous reports have shown that skin-to-skin care immediately after vaginal birth is the optimal form of care for full-term, healthy infants. Even in cases when the mother is awake and using spinal analgesia, early skin-to-skin contact between her and her newborn directly after cesarean birth might be limited for practical and medical safety reasons. The aim of the present study was to compare the effects of skin-to-skin contact on crying and prefeeding behavior in healthy, full-term infants born by elective cesarean birth and cared for skin-to-skin with their fathers versus conventional care in a cot during the first 2 hours after birth.
Methods: Twenty-nine father-infant pairs participated in a randomized controlled trial, in which infants were randomized to be either skin-to-skin with their father or next to the father in a cot. Data were collected both by tape-recording crying time for the infants and by naturalistic observations of the infants' behavioral response, scored every 15 minutes based on the scoring criteria described in the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS).
Results: The primary finding was the positive impact the fathers' skin-to-skin contact had on the infants' crying behavior. The analysis of the tape recordings of infant crying demonstrated that infants in the skin-to-skin group cried less than the infants in the cot group (p<0.001). The crying of infants in the skin-to-skin group decreased within 15 minutes of being placed skin-to-skin with the father. Analysis of the NBAS-based observation data showed that being cared for on the father's chest skin-to-skin also had an impact on infant wakefulness. These infants became drowsy within 60 minutes after birth, whereas infants cared for in a cot reached the same stage after 110 minutes. Rooting activity was more frequent in the cot group than in the skin-to-skin group (p<0.01), as were sucking activities (p<or=0.001) and overall duration of wakefulness (p<0.01).
Conclusions: The infants in the skin-to-skin group were comforted, that is, they stopped crying, became calmer, and reached a drowsy state earlier than the infants in the cot group. The father can facilitate the development of the infant's prefeeding behavior in this important period of the newborn infant's life and should thus be regarded as the primary caregiver for the infant during the separation of mother and baby.