A randomised trial of continuous skin-to-skin contact after preterm birth and the effects on salivary cortisol, parental stress, depression, and breastfeeding

Early Hum Dev. 2015 Jan;91(1):63-70. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2014.12.005. Epub 2014 Dec 26.


Aim: To evaluate the effects of almost continuous skin-to-skin contact (SSC) on salivary cortisol, parental stress, parental depression, and breastfeeding.

Study design: This is a randomised study engaging families of late preterm infants (32-35 weeks gestation). Salivary cortisol reactivity was measured in infants during a nappy change at one month corrected age, and in infants and mothers during still-face at four month corrected age. Both parents completed the Swedish Parenthood Stress Questionnaire (SPSQ) at one month and the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) at one and four months. Ainsworth's sensitivity scale was used to control for parental sensitivity.

Subjects: Thirty-seven families from two different neonatal care units in Sweden, randomised to either almost continuous SSC or standard care (SC).

Results: Infants randomised to SSC had a lower salivary cortisol reactivity at one month (p=0.01). There was a correlation between the mothers' and the preterm infants' salivary cortisol levels at four months in the SSC group (ρ=0.65, p=0.005), but not in the SC group (ρ=0.14, p=0.63). Fathers in SSC scored lower on the SPSQ sub-scale spouse relationship problems compared to fathers in SC (p<0.05).

Conclusions: Almost continuous SSC decreases infants' cortisol reactivity in response to handling, improves the concordance between mothers' and infants' salivary cortisol levels, and decreases fathers' experiences of spouse relationship problems.

Keywords: Cortisol; Kangaroo Mother Care; Neonatal Care; Preterm infants; Stress.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Feeding / psychology*
  • Depression / prevention & control*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Fathers / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / psychology*
  • Kangaroo-Mother Care Method / psychology*
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology


  • Hydrocortisone