By Zoe Quint
Kangaroo Care is a simple yet effective non-medical intervention that can have a lasting impact on both premature infants and their parents. Through a method of skin-to-skin contact between mother and child, a baby is placed with their naked body nestled into their mother’s (or father’s) chest and their ear turned towards her heartbeat. Usually, the baby wears a diaper, and a cloth is draped over the infant’s back, to secure the baby to its mother, and as a way to help maintain its temperature. Kangaroo Care can be done for as many hours as possible, although even one hour a day has marked benefit.
This seemingly elementary technique has many remarkable benefits for babies:
- Promotes deep sleep: helps babies conserve their energy
- Better thermo-regulation: the baby’s temperature remains more stable against a parent’s warm body, which can even be more effective than an incubator.
- Increased stabilization: it has been proven that a baby’s heart rate, respiratory rate and oxygen saturation also tend to stabilize during skin-to-skin contact.
- Reportedly faster weight gain and overall growth
Kangaroo Care has many benefits for parents as well:
- One-on-one time with the baby allows for more early bonding with your infant
- Stress relief from the overwhelming experience of the NICU
- May help increase breast-milk production for mothers
While someone other than an infant’s mother can perform Kangaroo Care, it seems that babies respond best to this kind of care when given by their birth mothers. But bear in mind that all Kangaroo Care is good care! There have been no known negative effects of skin-to-skin contact on infants. In fact, prolonged maternal contact carries its positive affects well past the first year of life. A report published in the journal Biological Psychiatry stated that children who had experienced prolonged maternal contact as infants had noticeably mature functioning of the nervous system, better sleep habits and greater cognitive control than those children who did not have the same contact in the first months of their life.
It is also important to speak with your baby’s nurse or physician before beginning Kangaroo Care, to ensure that it’s possible to spend this time with your baby. Infants that have just undergone surgery, and are not yet free of drains or IVs (lines) may not be good candidates for Kangaroo Care. But if your infant is stable, consult with a NICU nurse to schedule this special time for you and your child in a quiet and calm space.
To learn more about this technique and its effects on you and your baby, check out “Kangaroo Care – why it’s important, the benefits and tips on how to do it well” by Susan Ludington-Hoe, or visit the resources page on the Pebbles of Hope website with videos from parents and experts discussing the benefits of this important practice.