Understanding Kangaroo Care for Preemies and Newborns
If you are unfamiliar with the term, Kangaroo Care refers to a South American originated practice providing direct, skin-to-skin contact with newborn babies, particularly preemies or NICU babies. This method has been hailed for its many benefits to both parents and their babies. For those who have never heard of it, are expecting (or have) a preemie, or just want to know more—keep reading.
How it Works
Kangaroo care works best if there is direct, skin-to-skin contact between the baby and his/her parent. Usually in a hospital setting, the parent would sit in a chair and cradle the baby against his chest with the baby wearing nothing but a diaper. In a preemie situation, this can prove difficult at times; particularly if there are tubes and wires involved. Even with preemies, partial skin contact is better than none.
Why it Works
New babies have difficulty maintaining their skin temperature. Their mom or dad’s body is the perfect incubator. By spending less time trying to keep warm, a baby’s body can focus on other important development factors such as weight gain. Studies have also indicated that kangaroo care can help regulate the baby’s breathing and heart rate.
There are many extraordinary stories about the benefits of kangaroo care, including near-immediate improvements in vital signs. For premature babies, regular kangaroo care helps to strengthen their bond with their parents, which can be difficult due to having restricted access in most NICUs.
NICU babies also spend less time crying when they have kangaroo care. They experience less stress because they receive more direct care and, therefore, can focus more on developing.
Knowing that kangaroo care can help their baby will help parents reduce any stress and unnecessary guilt involved with being able to “do nothing” while their child is in the NICU. Parents can gradually get used to holding and caring for their baby while helping to make a real difference in the baby’s level of health.
Some mothers have also reported an increase in milk production by having regular contact with their baby, which helps improve the chances of success when transitioning to breastfeeding once the baby is ready. Meanwhile, baby and parents get to know each other prior to going home. This can dramatically reduce the stress associated with those first few days of full-time parenting.
Requesting Kangaroo Care
Every hospital has different regulations for holding a NICU baby. In most situations, the baby has to be stable and breathing on his own—although there are exceptions. There is no harm to asking if you can begin kangaroo care with your baby. Prepare yourself for a rational discussion with your baby’s physician as to what developmental milestones need to be reached before you can begin holding your baby.