Shirtless photos of Barry Zito abound on the internet. That's a shade counterintuitive, because the extraordinarily well-compensated former San Francisco Giants pitcher, of all people, ought to be able to afford a shirt. But no one has ever seen fit to complain. And the latest photos of Zito au naturel have drawn appreciative catcalls from an unexpected quarter: obstetricians.
That's because Zito isn't alone in the shots that graced the web last week, but accompanied by his newborn son. The elder Zito is still wearing a backwards ballcap, but the newborn is clutched to his bare chest.
Many obstetricians, even those operating in sterile delivery rooms not graced by crystals or patchouli, have encouraged "skin-to-skin bonding" between mothers and newborn infants. Proponents argue this triggers babies' instinctive feeding behavior; stimulates mothers' immune systems to develop antibodies delivered to the baby via breast milk; and even triggers hormonal releases especially beneficial to breast-feeding.
Well, men have breasts, too. But their purpose is more ornamental than pragmatic.
And, to an extent, so is male skin-to-skin bonding.
"Hey, dads used to be at the corner bar," says Judith Bishop, a UC San Francisco professor of obstetrics and midwife. Now "dads don't want to be left out."
In 35 years, Bishop has seen more than a few dads-to-be whip off their shirts at the sight of their children emerging into the larger, extrauterine world: "But I don't make a big point of it. Though I wouldn't discourage it." She hasn't seen an uptick in recent years — but thanks to Zito, you never know.
On the other side of the nation, in Brooklyn, obstetrician Sandra McCalla had already seen the picture of "the famous baseball player who demonstrated it for all to see." And she's thrilled.
McCalla strongly encourages fellow obstetricians and residents at the Maimonides Medical Center to buy into skin-to-skin bonding; rather than handing off a newborn to a nurse, put it on the mother's chest. If the mother is incapacitated, perhaps from a caesarian section, she suggests passing the child to its bare-chested father. "What better way to get the father involved in the first few moments?" she asks.
But not just for the first few moments. "I visit my patients and, if the baby is in the crib, I say, 'If mommy is tired and sleeping, take the baby and put him against your chest.'"
Neither Bishop nor McCalla, who have delivered thousands of babies, tied an affection for male skin-to-skin bonding to the hard sciences. Both, independently, offered the same conclusion: "It can't hurt!"
And, in Zito's case, further benefits apply. "He is a professional athlete," says Bishop. "So he's got a good chest, presumably."