The Cochrane Review, which looks at all studies combined, states that skin-to-skin contact after birth: "...appears to benefit breastfeeding outcomes, and cardio-respiratory stability and decrease infant crying, and has no apparent short- or long-term negative effects. Further investigation is recommended." One of the reasons they say it needs to be studied more is that the definition of what constitutes skin to skin contact varies with hospital procedures. Is five minutes enough? If baby is dried off, the cord cut, APGAR scores assessed, and then baby is given to mother for unlimited skin to skin does that confer the same benefits? In my own experience, our local hospitals say they practice skin to skin, but the procedure is to place baby on mother's chest pretty quickly, but then remove baby for procedures and swaddling within a few minutes. Mother is later handed a baby burrito, and many women would not think to remove the blanket if not encouraged to. I've also heard it said that cheek-to-cheek is the same as skin-to-skin, but this is clearly not the case. In these studies skin-to-skin means baby in a diaper or naked on mom's bare chest and covered in a blanket.
This study found that babies stayed warmer, breastfeeding rates were improved, and the placenta delivered faster in those who held their babies skin to skin. Another found significantly improved breastfeeding in the hospital, which is so nice when mothers don't have to worry about it after giving birth. It is now well-known that homebirthing mothers have much higher breastfeeding rates in the weeks after birth, and the immediate and prolonged skin-to-skin contact is a very logical reason why this might be the case. There have also been documented improvement in bonding even a year after birth for those babies held skin-to-skin right after birth.
An amazing discovery is that skin to skin is not only beneficial right after birth. It can actually help improve breastfeeding in an older baby having problems. Almost all the babies held skin to skin when not latching on in the first 4 months ended up latching successfully and for longer. Only a third of those not held skin to skin ended up latching. So if there was some problem right after the birth that kept mother and baby apart, getting skin-to-skin ASAP will help "make up" for the lost time. This is often the first thing suggested for a dyad having bonding or breastfeeding problems even at older ages.
It's the Natural Thing
I want to say what an easy intervention this is, but in reality, aren't all the clothes and blankets that get between mother and baby the intervention? In reading these studies, they all referred to skin-to-skin as the intervention because it's not the usual way things are done in the hospital. Shouldn't these studies have been done before they started removing babies and swaddling them to determine if it were any better? It's an important lesson to remember. We need to make sure doing the "unnatural" thing is actually better in some way before we assume it is. Chances are, when we interfere there will be unintended consequences.
But it Takes Time!
Not sure how you're going to handle many hours of skin-to-skin contact with your baby while running errands and having lots of visitors in the first weeks? I can't either, which should suggest that you should be in your house without visitors at the beginning. It's not what our culture seems to value, but it's very important for the long-term physical and emotional health of both mom and baby to get off to a good start. Your friends, extended family, and responsibilities will all be there once you've recovered and bonded with your baby. It's taken me many babies to realize this myself, so as I lay here snuggled with my baby only in a diaper asleep on my chest and covered with a blanket, take my word for it, you won't regret time spent skin-to-skin!