Dads and Kangaroo Care: Why 1:1 time with your newborn matters

Going from ‘man’ to ‘dad’ is no mean feat, but 1:1 time with your newborn, particularly skin-to-skin, will make all the difference.

Dads and Kangaroo Care: Why 1:1 time with your newborn matters

Bringing baby home

Bringing baby home is often an exciting and nerve-wracking experience. The first few weeks can be a real rollercoaster as you and your partner adjust to life with a newborn. For some dads, the deep sense of attachment they had hoped for doesn’t happen immediately. Baby’s focus will be with mum as she provides the necessary food and comfort. Because of this, you may feel like a bit of a spare part. But the sooner you start spending time getting to know your newborn the better. It won’t be long before your baby can recognise and interact with you and the process of building long-term bonds really begins. 

It’s not just your baby that's changing…

Your baby will change an incredible amount in the first few months, but it is not just baby that's changing. Research over the last decade has shown men's brains change as they become fathers. This change enables dads to be more effective and instinctual caregivers for their children. However, this process is not automatic - it is quality time spent one-to-one with your baby that will build your fathering brain. The more hours alone with your baby, the greater the neural changes. 

Studies have shown that from as early on as 3 months, the positive involvement from a father is associated with a boost in their baby’s mental development. Not only that, new research of UK dads has shown that positive involvement in the first year helps cement the bond between you and your child until they are at least 11-years-old and that this positive effect builds over time.  

What is skin-to-skin?

One of the best ways of unlocking these benefits early on is to start getting one-to-one time with your newborn through skin-to-skin contact. This is often called ‘Kangaroo Care’, because of the way kangaroos look after their young in their pouch. 

Kangaroo care is particularly important for premature babies as those who receive kangaroo care are 30% more likely to survive than those that don't. However, skin-to-skin contact for babies who have gone full term is also really beneficial.

The benefits

  • Accelerates babies brain development: kangaroo care is a multi-sensory experience. Touch, in particular, helps grow neural pathways & speeds up brain development. Most babies also fall into a natural deep sleep for 60 mins or more during skin-to-skin, this quality sleep is necessary for organisational patterns to form in baby’s brain. 

  • Calms and soothes baby: their levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, are measurably lower after only 20 minutes of baby being held. Pain is also reduced, so babies who experience kangaroo care are often less agitated and cry less.

  • Enhances the Immune System: dad’s mature immune system passes antibodies from his skin to babies.

  • Stimulate digestion and weight gain: reduction in the hormones cortisol and somatostatin, allow for better absorption of nutrients. It also supports the preservation of baby’s brown fat which helps maintain birth weight and stay warm. 

  • Synchronising heart rate and breathing: baby is able to hear the comforting sound of dad’s heartbeat and voice which will help them learn to regulate breathing and heart rate.

  • Relaxation and wellbeing: during skin-to-skin your hormone levels change. Oxytocin levels increasing and testosterone levels decreasing helps dad to develop a nurturing and affectionate bond. This in turn helps dad tune in and become more sensitive to what baby needs.

How to…

  1. Sit semi-reclined with a bare chest. Your baby should just be wearing a nappy.
  2. Lay your baby in a vertical position against your chest with their shoulders resting on (or above) your breastbone. Keep your little one warm with a blanket.
  3. Make sure you can see your baby's face all the time and check that they can breathe easily through their nose and mouth. Baby’s head should be turned to one side with their neck straight, not flexed or extended. 
  4. Keep listening and looking for cues that they are properly positioned. 
  5. …and enjoy getting to connect with your little one!

More hints and tips…

The Parent Club also have some more great tips to help you bond with your baby!

Parent Club Scotland - Bonding tips for dads and partners