Mother-Infant Skin-to-Skin Contact: Short- and Long-Term Effects for Mothers and Their Children Born Full-Term

Front Psychol. 2020 Aug 28;11:1921. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01921. eCollection 2020.


This brief report reviews findings from a longitudinal study of skin-to-skin contact (SSC) with mothers and full-term infants and a follow-up study of these dyads when the children were 9 years. Findings infer the positive influence of SSC on mother-child interactions in infancy and into children's middle childhood. Mothers and infants in SSC and control groups were seen when infants were 1 week, 1 month, 2 months, and 3 months. SSC group mothers reported fewer depressive symptoms in infants' early weeks and had a greater reduction in salivary cortisol, a physiological stress indicator, in infants' first month (Bigelow et al., 2012). SSC group mothers who initially chose to breastfeed continued to breastfeed their infants throughout the 3 months, whereas breastfeeding mothers in the control group declined over the visits (Bigelow et al., 2014). When engaged in the Still Face Task with their mothers, SSC group infants showed the still face effect with their affect at 1 month, a month before the control group infants did so (Bigelow and Power, 2012). At 3 months, SSC group infants were social bidding to their mothers during the still face phase. When the children were 9 years, the mother-child dyads engaged in conversations about the children's remembered emotional events (Bigelow et al., 2018). Mother-child dyads who had been in the SSC group showed more engagement and reciprocity in the conversations than mother-child dyads who had been in the control group. Oxytocin, which is induced by SSC, is hypothesized to be an underlying factor that helped the mother-infant relationship have a positive trajectory with long-term benefits.

Keywords: breastfeeding; infants’ self-agency; mother–child emotional communication; mother–child short‐ and long-term relations; mother–infant skin-to-skin contact; postpartum depressive symptoms.