New MCRI research shows how skin-to-skin contact between a parent and child, helps the lungs of babies in neonatal intensive care fill with air.

Using world-first lung imaging methods, MCRI researcher Dr Nick Schinckel showed that skin-to-skin care, where a baby is placed on their parents' bare chest, supported more effective ventilation throughout the lung than cot nursing, without dropping heart and breathing rates, or body temperature.

Dr Leah Hickey, lead-Neonatologist for the Royal Children's Hospital family-centred care COCOON program, said skin-to-skin care had proven psychological benefits, but the bodily effects were unknown until now.  

"Skin-to-skin care improves attachment behaviour, reduces maternal anxiety, increases settled sleep, reduces crying, enhances breast feeding and improves weight gain," she said.

"It's increasingly used as part of family-centred care in our intensive care units but the effects of skin-to-skin care on  a baby's breathing have been less clear until now."  

Associate Professor David Tingay, who supervised the study, said "There are several biological explanations such as the infant lying more upright which may lessen the pressure on the diaphragm," he said.

"The infant is often nestled around their parent's chest, which calms the baby and also causes less stress on the lungs."

The research further supports the use of this important care experience which brings families closer together, even for the sickest and smallest babies.

Nicholas F Schinckel, Leah Hickey, Elizabeth J Perkins, Prue M Pereira-Fantini, Sienna Koeppenkastrop, Isabella Stafford, Georgie Dowse, David G Tingay
Skin-to-skin care alters regional ventilation in stable neonates
Archives of Disease in Childhood - Fetal and Neonatal Edition  -