Dr. Nils Bergman: Skin-to-Skin Contact


Dr. Nils Bergman is interested in the impact of the first few hours after birth and how skin-to-skin contact between newborn and parents during this period can positively impact the development of social intelligence. His research shows that babies who are put skin-to-skin immediately after birth are warmer by one degree, have a higher blood sugar, are breathing better and, best of all, they are awake and aware of their surroundings.  They open their eyes and connect with their mother.

His recommendation, wherever possible, is to have the baby stay with its mother immediately from birth, resting skin-to-skin.  He notes that the mother’s skin in the breast area is different than in other areas of the body, two degrees warmer than the rest of the body, and naturally designed as a place for baby to be after birth.  Dr. Bergman posits that the smell and sound of the mother in the uterus, and the taste of the mother in the amniotic fluid, are already familiar to the baby. This pre-established familiarity contributes to the newborn’s sense of being safe.

In his practice, particularly with premature babies, Dr. Bergman places the newborn on its mother and then wraps it closely so that it feels contained, as it would have in utero, so that deep pressure touch can go deep to the emotional processing centre of the brain and reassures the infant’s amygdala that it is safe.  He teaches this ‘containment touch’ to parents as a skill they can use to reassure and calm their baby.

Where extreme prematurity or health/surgery to baby or mother prevent immediate skin-to-skin contact, Dr. Bergman and his team have found that you can start again, even after weeks of separation, to build the skin-to-skin bond between parent and infant.

Dr. Bergman states that the baby needs this intimate connection with those who will be its primary caregivers over the first two years of life, its “attachment environment” community of care, all those, including grandparents, who may be its consistent caregivers.  Dr. Bergman’s experience is that babies will not come to harm from change in primary caregiver if strong attachment links are created to the new primary caregiver, but babies cannot cope if their care is passed around without a primary caregiver being established.  He stresses that babies who have a ‘rocky start’ can thrive if extra inputs, including professional supports such as occupational or speech therapy, are provided to help establish attachment connections with a stable primary caregiver.