As much as a new mom would love to be attached at the hip to her child, there are always instances when time apart is necessary, whether it’s when the infant goes to sleep or is taken to the hospital nursery immediately after labor. However, new research shows that maternal separation is actually a stressor for babies.

Researchers measured heart rate variability in 2-day-old sleeping babies for one hour when they had skin-to-skin contact with the mother and then again when they were sleeping alone in a cot next to their mother’s bed. They found that the infant’s neonatal autonomic activity was 176 percent higher and quiet sleep 86 percent lower during maternal separation compared with skin-to-skin contact.

Study author Barak Morgan said the research explores a contradiction in human parenthood: For animals, separation from the mother is typically seen as a stressor that can leave damaging effects on a newborn’s brain, whereas it is commonplace among humans.

“Skin-to-skin contact with mother removes this contradiction, and our results are a first step towards understanding exactly why babies do better when nursed in skin-to-skin contact with mother, compared to incubator care,” Morgan said.

While more research is needed to further understand the newborn response to separation and long-term, neurological effects, it is generally agreed upon that skin-to-skin contact can prove beneficial for easing stress for newborns.

“This paper highlights the profound impact of maternal separation on the infant,” said John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry, where the study was published. “We knew that this was stressful, but the current study suggests that this is major physiologic stressor for the infant.”

Source: Elsevier

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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