Effect of Skin-To-Skin Contact on Preterm Infant Skin Barrier Function and Hospital-Acquired Infection

Amel Abouelfettoh, Susan M. Ludington-Hoe, Chris J. Burant, Marty O. Visscher


Background: The preterm infants' skin is structurally and functionally immature at birth because of immature stratum corneum barrier function, leading to problems with fluid loses, thermoregulation, and infection. Two parameters of barrier function can be non-invasively assessed: Stratum Corneum Hydration (SCH) and Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL). Skin-to-Skin Care (SSC) is the proposed independent variable that might affect barrier function by decreasing TEWL and increasing SCH, thereby improving stratum corneum barrier function and consequently decreasing the rate of infection. No study of SSC's effects on TEWL and SCH of preterm infants could be found. The purpose of the study was to determine the effect of 5 daily Skin-to-Skin Contact sessions on infant skin hydration (SCH), transepidermal evaporated water loss (TEWL), and on SCH when TEWL was controlled, and on the presence of hospital acquired infection.

Methods: A one-group pretest-test-posttest design with 10 preterm infants (28 - 30 wks GA < 32 wks postmenstrual age, and no infection at entry). Test = 90 minutes of SSC; pre-test and post-test = 30 minutes each of prone positioning in an incubator. SCH and TEWL were taken on Days 1 and 5 at the beginning, middle and end of each period using Multi-Probe Adaptor. A 3 X 3 X 2 Repeated Measures Mixed Models Design, including a covariate, was used to analyze level of Skin Hydration. Specifically, the model tested comparisons in SCH made across repetitions, time, and days, as well as all possible interactions while controlling for TEWL. Descriptive statistics described the number of positive blood cultures during hospitalization and the presence of infections four weeks post-discharge.

Results: Significant differences in skin hydration were found across TIME (Pre-SSC, SSC, Post-SSC) (F = 21.86; p < 0.001). One infant had a positive blood culture during hospitalization; no infants had signs of infection by 4 weeks post-discharge.

Conclusions: The study has begun fulfilling the recommendation that SSC be tested as a strategy to improve skin hydration, but reveals that evaporative loss may be higher during SSC than during incubator care, and that the higher transepidermal evaporated water loss values may not necessarily be detrimental because few infections occurred even in its presence. A definitive randomized controlled trial is recommended.




Skin-to-skin contact; Skin hydration; Transepidermal water loss; Infection; Preterm

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