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The Relation Between Early Mother-Infant Skin-to-Skin Contact and Later Maternal Sensitivity in South African Mothers of Low Birth Weight Infants

Early mother-infant skin-to-skin contact predicted later maternal sensitivity.

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  • N: 34 (12 mother–infant dyads)
  • Subject Ages: Infants under 1 year
  • Location: South Africa, Cape Town
  • SES: Not available
  • Eligibility: Infants born with low birth weight (1,385-2,199 g) in a large, public maternity hospital


  1. Early mother-infant skin-to-skin contact (SSC) would correlate with subsequent scores of maternal sensitivity.
  2. Early mother-infant SSC would be an independent predictor of later maternal sensitivity scores on these measures.
  3. Examination of the amount of mother-infant SSC over the infants’ early life to determine the consistency of the SSC infants received.

Variables Measured, Instruments Used

  • Amounts of SSC - hospital records and home interviews
  • Maternal sensitivity - videotapes of mother-infant interactions in the home, scored on the:
    • Maternal Behavior Q-Sort (Pederson, Moran & Bento, 1999)
    • Maternal Behavior subscale of the Nursing Child Assessment Teaching Scale (Sumner & Spietz, 1994)




  1. Amount of (skin-to-skin contant) SSC in infants’ first 24 hours correlated with amount of SSC through the first month.
  2. Amount of SSC in infants’ first 24 hours independently accounted for maternal sensitivity on both measures, indicating that early mother-infant SSC predicted subsequent maternal sensitivity.


  • Small sample size: The number of dyads followed was small, and the age range of the infants at the time of the follow-up visit was large. The significant results obtained with the small sample suggest that the findings are robust; yet, whether early mother-infant SSC would be associated with later maternal sensitivity in a larger sample or with a more restricted age range of infants remains to be tested.
  • Maternal report: With the exception of the amount of SSC  documented in hospital records during the infants’ first few days of life, the amount of SSC the mothers provided was collected from mothers’ reports at the time of the follow-up visits; thus, these amounts were subject to subjective recall. However, mothers’ reports of the SSC provided during the infants’ first few days corroborated with the amount reported in hospital records, suggesting that the mothers’ memories were accurate.
  • Low generalizability: The dyads were from a high-risk population, which limits how the results can be generalized to other populations.