Read our article to learn important things you don’t know about the kangaroo care method and how it will benefit you and your newborn baby.
Because their premature babies face tremendous medical and physical obstacles to overcome in their lives, parents can become overwhelmed with the fear of the unknown. Spending weeks or possibly months in a hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), parents, longing to touch and hold their tiny babies, may be afraid that if they attempt to try they may unknowingly hurt their baby. However, there is a safe way for these families to begin the bonding process through a method called Kangaroo Care.
The practice of Kangaroo Care originated in South America. After gaining much success throughout that continent, the method quickly gained popularity throughout Europe and later in the United States. Modeled after the way a kangaroo carries her offspring, this direct, skin-to-skin contact is usually best accomplished when mom or dad is sitting in a rocking chair. The diapered baby, usually deemed stable by the medical staff in a NICU, is placed either on the father’s bare chest or between a mother’s breasts.
“The parent’s shirt or blouse is closed around the infant, and an additional blanket is placed on top,” explains Elizabeth H., B.S.N., R.N.C., clinical nurse at a children’s hospital. “Infants need human touch to survive, and it is an important part of their development. Kangaroo Care is a wonderful, safe way for new parents to interact and nurture their baby. The infant is calmed through the warmth of their parent’s skin and the sound of the parent’s breathing, voice and heartbeat.”
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Benefits for Baby
Research has confirmed that Kangaroo Care may assist in maintaining a premature baby’s body warmth, establishing weight gain and regulating heart and breathing rates. “It has been shown time and time again that Kangaroo Care causes a regulation of heart rate, breathing and temperature control,” says Dr. Janice M., chief of neonatology in New York.
Dr. Janice also notes that during her observations of infants in the NICU she found that Kangaroo Care helped enhance the baby’s immune system. “The infants at our facility who underwent Kangaroo Care also had a decreased incidence of infection compared to those babies who did not,” she says.
The March of Dimes states that Kangaroo Care can help a baby because it allows her more time to be quiet and alert with less time spent crying. This calming, positive touch “decreases stress and even is known to relieve the perception of pain in the infant,” explains Dr. Janice. “For the parent whose child is in the NICU, it is a way of providing a type of care that the medical staff cannot do, so the parents have a role in the medical care of the child. This is a very powerful feeling for a parent to be able to also provide care for such a vulnerable child.”
Benefits for Mom and Dad
Kangaroo Care has proven medical benefits for Mom, too. “Kangaroo Care enhances the bonding process of Mother and Baby through shared touch and warmth,” says Kellie B., B.S.N., R.N.C., I.B.C.L.C., clinical nurse manager in Washington. “It activates the maternal processes mothers seek in finding meaning in motherhood, especially with a pre-term infant.” Recent research has confirmed that a mother’s body temperature will adjust to accommodate her baby’s temperature during the practice.
“It is amazing to see the infants peek thru the blankets into their mother’s face,” adds Kellie. “When they are placed between their mother’s chest, they wiggle about to find a comfortable position and turn their heads at the sound of her voice.”
New moms may also achieve more success if they choose to breastfeed their newborns. “There is an increase in maternal milk volume for breastfeeding/pumping moms, and they are more likely to continue breastfeeding after they are discharged,” says Elizabeth. “Moms also report an increased sense of self-esteem and stronger identity with and knowledge of their infants’ cues.”
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New dads also benefit emotionally from Kangaroo Care. “For fathers, Kangaroo Care enables them to bond with their infant,” says Elizabeth. “When the mother is breastfeeding, the father may feel frustrated at not being able to calm a fussy baby. Placing the baby to the chest can help to calm the baby and can be very rewarding to the father.”
When Is it Safe to Begin?
Kangaroo Care can usually be initiated when the NICU staff feels that the infant is stable enough to come out of the warmer to be held by the parent. “Many hospitals allow the procedure when the infant is breathing on his or her own, but others provide Kangaroo Care when a child is still incubated on a ventilator,” says Dr. Janice. “It is a decision that rests with the medical staff.” Because in most cases parents cannot initiate Kangaroo Care on their own, most specialists agree that parents should always ask the NICU staff about the hospital’s policy on kangaroo care.
“Kangaroo care is a wonderful activity that strengthens the bond that parents have with their child,” says Dr. Janice. “The parents cannot express how grateful they feel that they can participate in giving something to their children. It is a win for the child, the parents and the caregivers who can develop a working relationship with the parents.”
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The names of the people mentioned in the article have been changed for security reasons and to protect privacy.