Daily skin-to-skin contact (SSC) during early infancy fosters the long-term development of children born preterm. This is the first randomized controlled trial assessing the potential beneficial effects of daily SSC on executive functioning and socio-emotional behavior of children born full-term. Whether children of mothers who experienced prenatal stress and anxiety benefitted more from SSC was also explored.
Pregnant women (N = 116) were randomly assigned to a SSC or care-as-usual (CAU) condition. Women in the SSC condition were instructed to perform one hour of SSC daily from birth until postnatal week five. Prenatal stress was measured with questionnaires on general and pregnancy-specific stress and anxiety completed by the mothers in gestational week 37. At child age three, mothers filled in questionnaires on children’s executive functioning, and externalizing and internalizing behavior. Analyses were performed in an intention-to-treat (ITT), per-protocol, and dose–response approach. Netherlands Trial Register: NL5591.
In the ITT approach, fewer internalizing (95% CI = 0.11–1.00, U = 2148.50, r = .24, p = .001) and externalizing (95% CI = 0.04–2.62, t = 2.04, d = 0.38, p = .04) problems were reported in the SSC condition compared to the CAU condition. Multivariate analyses of variance did not show group differences on executive functioning. Additional analyses of covariance showed no moderations by maternal prenatal stress.
Current findings indicate that early daily SSC in full-term infants may foster children’s behavioral development. Future replications, including behavioral observations of child behavior to complement maternal reports, are warranted.