After a premature birth, it’s natural for parents to feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are some things both moms and dads can do to feel a little more in control, and to help their baby get stronger — including practicing kangaroo care. We’ll walk you through what kangaroo care is, its benefits, and how a little (or a lot of) skin-to-skin contact each day can help your preemie grow and develop, and maybe even go home sooner.

What is kangaroo care?

Holding your baby closely to your chest is a special experience that can help build the bond between you and your new family member. This type of touch isn’t just good for bonding — it’s also medically beneficial for your baby. Kangaroo care is a method of holding your baby to your chest.

This allows for skin-to-skin contact between you and baby. During each session, your baby will be placed (naked except for a diaper and hat) on your chest (also bared to allow skin-to-skin) for up to a few hours. A blanket, shirt, hospital gown or robe can be wrapped around you and over your baby’s back for warmth. This wrapping of your infant into your chest looks very much like a mother kangaroo holding her baby in her pouch — which is where the name kangaroo care comes from.

Where does the idea come from?

It originated in Colombia in the 1970s when a Colombian paediatrician, in the absence of incubators available for all premature babies, developed this method by improving the babies’ temperature and reducing the risk of complications such as infection or even abandonment of the newborns.

Does it have proven benefits?

Scientific research has proven the benefits of this method for both the baby and the family, particularly the mother. In fact, studies have found that by holding your baby skin-to-skin, it can stabilize the heart and respiratory (breathing) rates, improve oxygen saturation rates, better regulate an infant’s body temperature and conserve a baby’s calories.

After a premature birth, it’s natural for parents to feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are some things both moms and dads can do to feel a little more in control, and to help their baby get stronger — including practicing kangaroo care.
CREDIT: GRAND CHALLENGES CANADA / FLICKR

When a mother is practicing kangaroo care, her infant typically snuggles into her breasts and falls asleep within a few minutes. The breasts themselves have been shown to change in temperature to match your baby’s temperature needs. In other words, your breasts can increase in temperature when your baby’s body is cool and can decrease in temperature when the baby is warm.

The extra sleep that your infant gets while snuggling with mom and the assistance in regulating body temperature helps your baby conserve energy and redirect calorie expenditures (use) toward growth and weight gain. Being positioned on mom also helps to stabilize your infant’s respiratory and heart rates. Research has also shown that practicing kangaroo care can have a positive impact on your baby’s brain development.

Why is this method so important?

The main advantage is the promotion of breastfeeding as it allows breastfeeding to start earlier, helps the mother to be prepared for breastfeeding, helps the baby to suckle better, increases the mother’s milk production and increases the time of exclusive breastfeeding. And as it is well known, breast milk has characteristics that no other food can have, giving unique advantages to the baby, whether full-term or premature.

What other benefits can it bring?

It improves the baby’s quality of life, particularly: in the improvement of sleep, in the reduction of crying, in the sensation of pain, in the temperature maintained, and also in the baby’s global development.

And what does it bring for the parents?

It allows you to know your child better, increases the bond with the baby and reduces parental anxiety, particularly that of the mother, a factor that contributes significantly to the production of breast milk. This method must, therefore, be practiced as long as the baby is well, the parents want it and the nurses or doctors, in the case of hospitalisation, agree. And after the baby has gone home it must continue to be a frequent practice.

How to do it?

The mother or father should be sitting in a reclined armchair, comfortably and preferably without perfume or any other product that alters their natural smell. They should have their chest uncovered and place the baby in an upright position on their chest, keeping their head and neck in line and their face to one side so as not to obstruct breathing. It will be more comfortable for the baby if they keep their legs bent, their back covered with a blanket and their head protected with a cap.

Whenever possible you should keep this method going for at least an hour and practise it several times a day. The more parents practise it, the more secure and comfortable they will be with how to do it. The time when the mother or father has their baby at the breast is a very special period, which should be experienced in the best way by the family. The kangaroo care is an investment in the present and future life of each premature baby.

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Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Kangaroo Care: What it is, Benefits & How To Do It. [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/12578-kangaroo-care> [Accessed 26 February 2021].

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