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A Systematic Review of the Effects of Skin-to-Skin Contact on Biomarkers of Stress in Preterm Infants and Parents



Premature infants and their parents experience significant stress related to separation and lifesaving procedures. While evidence suggests that skin-to-skin contact (SSC) is a stress-reducing intervention for both neonates and parents, the mechanisms that underlie its efficacy are not well understood.


Purpose of this systematic review is to summarize the current state of knowledge on changes in biomarkers (ie, oxytocin [OT], cortisol, hypoxanthine, xanthine, uric acid, and allantoin), associated with SSC in premature infants and parents, that may reflect physiologic responses to stress.


A comprehensive literature search was conducted from 1990 to 2020. Studies were selected using prespecified inclusion and exclusion criteria.


Of the 175 studies identified, only 19 are included in this review. Ten studies evaluated only infants, 2 evaluated only parents, and 7 evaluated for changes in biomarkers in both infants and parents. Cortisol was the most common biomarker evaluated. While changes in infants' cortisol levels were highly variable, in 55% of the parent studies, parent cortisol levels decreased following SSC. In both parents and infants, OT levels decreased following SSC. Only 1 study found that allantoin levels were significantly lower in infants who received SSC.

Implications for practice and research

While evidence suggests the numerous benefits of SSC, additional research is needed to identify the optimal biomarker to determine the mechanisms that underlie these effects. The use of novel biomarkers (eg, gene expression changes microbiome) may provide new insights into the mechanisms that underlie the efficacy of SSC.Video Abstract available at:

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