You give birth to a low birthweight or a preterm infant and your little one is literally whisked away from you, indefinitely. You may feel isolated, lonely and helpless; parents and babies alike. Â You have trust that the hospital will do all that they can, yet you wish that there was something more that you could do.
Good news. Despite the emphasis of our society on high tech medicine, leading neonatal centers worldwide are embracing and promoting Kangaroo Care. Â Doctors and nurses are taking preemies out of the machine controlled warmth of the incubators and placing them confidently on their mother’s bare chests. Â Modern medicine is actually encouraging parentsÂ to play an active and powerful role in their baby’s recovery.
- Mimics the soothing environment of the wombÂ - The baby has just been in a safe, enclosed, and warm environment. Wrapping a baby skin to skin mimics the familiar environment of the womb as the baby continues to receive touch, rhythm and pressure. Not only does the baby have a feeling of containment, (as opposed to lying on a flat bed in an incubator) but also the soothing and comforting sounds of his motherâ€™s heart beat and breathing and rhythmic rocking that he was so accustomed to.
- Regulates body temperature -Â A mother has actual â€śthermal synchronyâ€ť with her infant. When a baby is placed in the kangaroo position, skin to skin with his mother, the temperature of the motherâ€™s breasts actually change so that her baby can better maintain his own temperature. If the baby gets too cold the motherâ€™s body temperature will actually warm up one degree to help warm the baby. If the baby gets too hot, the motherâ€™s body temperature will decrease one degree to cool the baby. This even works when twins are kangarooed (Ludington-Hoe, 2004). Furthermore, the flexed position that the baby assumes on his motherâ€™s chest as opposed to lying on his back in an incubator is a more efficient position for conserving heat.
- Enhances lactation, the prevalence and duration of breastfeedingÂ - With easy access to the breast, mothers experience easier let down, increased milk supply (Furman,2002). Mothers are more likely to breastfeed exclusively and have more success with prolonged nursing (Figueroa de Leon).
- Enhances immunological protectionÂ - If the mother is breastfeeding her baby, she will raise antibodies in response to all of the microbes that they come in contact with and transfer them to the baby (Lawn, 2010). Some antibodies can even be transferred skin to skin (Telemo,1996). Touch is so important to the healthy development of an infant that a lack of touch, or separation of mother and newborn, actually causes high amounts of the toxic stress hormone cortisol to be released. High levels of cortisol in the blood and separation from mother may negatively impact immune function as the body may stop producing leukocytes.
- Lessens crying -Â Babies, both preterm and full-term, cry less when placed in skin to skin contact with their mothers. Decreased crying means less stress and subsequently lower levels of cortisol.
- Enhances growth/weight gainÂ â€“ High cortisol levels that result from mother baby separation have a negative impact on growth hormone. With mother present to help assist in regulating the babyâ€™s breathing, heart rate, and temperature, the baby has decreased energy needs and can conserve his energy and calories, and direct it toward growth. (Charpak, 1997). In an upright prone position babies also regurgitate less (Ludington-Hoe, 1993).
- Leads to shorter hospital staysÂ â€“ Babies that are practicing Kangaroo Care can have up to a 50% shorter hospital stay than babies who are not â€śkangarooedâ€ť (Charpak,1997).
- Provides a buffer against over-stimulation â€“Â In an upright prone position babies tolerate noise and activity around them much better (Ludington Hoe, 1993).Â A typical NICU is a very busy place.
- Supports arousal regulationÂ - When held skin to skin with their mothers, babies spend more time in a quiet alert state. When carried in motherâ€™s arms, the baby is in a safe place from which to view the world. It is from this safe known place that babies learn about the unknown. In a calm and alert state and in touch with mother, a baby is in the optimum state for observing and processing.
- Reduces apnea and uneven breathingÂ - Kangaroo Care markedly decreases apnea episodes in preterm infants (Ludington,1998). When a baby is placed skin to skin on the chest of either parent there is usually an improvement in breathing patterns. The baby can hear the breathing and it stimulates the babyâ€™s breathing so that the baby imitates the parent (Ludington, 1998).
- Stabilizes heart rateÂ - Heart rate is actually more regular in babies under Kangaroo Mother Care (McCain, 2005). During KMC, bradycardia (low heart rate below 100) is markedly reduced and tachycardia (heart rates of 180 or more) rarely occurs (Ludington-Hoe,1993). Babiesâ€™ cardio status stabilized faster after open heart surgery with Kangaroo Care (Gazollo, 2000). Heart rate is so important because babyâ€™s brain requires a steady and consistent flow of blood to get the oxygen it needs to grow and perform properly.
- Relieves stress reactionsÂ â€“ Babies deal with pain better and cry less in response to pain (for procedures such as heel sticks) while Kangarooed (Kostandy, 2008).
- Improves neurobehaviorÂ - Preterm babies that were given many hours of KMC in the early weeks after birth, compared to those given little or no care, scored higher on mental and motor development tests in the first year of life (Charpak et al., 2005).
- Increases oxygenation of the babyâ€™s bodyÂ (Feldman, 2003).
- Assists in bonding process and builds attachmentÂ - increases maternal sensitivity, responsiveness and connectedness (Dodd, 2005).
- Builds parent confidence and competenceÂ - Holding baby close reduces stress among parents and family (Feldman et al., 2002, 2003). Kangaroo Mother Care empowers parents as they feel that they can do something incredibly beneficial and positive for their preterm infants.
- Helps parents play an active rather than passive role in their babyâ€™s recovery.
- Provides longer periods of restful sleep â€“Â Kangaroo Care when carried out in a low light, quiet environment with any baby, full or preterm, helps babies to remain more calm and transition from one sleep state to another (Ferber, 2004). Preterm babies were found to have spent more time sleeping during Kangaroo Care (Messemer, 1997).
- Saves lives -Â The latest studies show a 51 percent reduction in newborn mortality when babies (stable and less than 2 kg) were kangarooed within the first week after birth and breastfed by their mothers.(Lawn,2010)
- It is safe.Â Not one study has proven that it can hurt your baby.
Charpak, N.â€ťKangaroo mother care: 25 years after,â€ť2005 Acta Paediatric, 94 (5), 514-522.
Feldman et al. â€śTesting a Family Intervention Hypothesis: The Contribution of Mother-Infant Skin-to-Skin contact (kangaroo care) to Family Interaction, Proximity, and Touch,â€ť 2003 March Journal of Family Psychology. Vol 17, 94-107
Ferber et al., â€śThe Effect of Skin-to-Skin Contact (Kangaroo Care) Shortly After Birth on the Neurobehavioral Responses of the Term Newborn: A Randomized, Controlled Trial,â€ť 2004 Pediatrics 113: 858-865
Furman, L. â€śCorrelates of Lactation of Very Low Birth Weight Infants,â€ť 2002 Pediatrics Vol. 109 (4) 57
Gazzolo, D. â€śKangaroo Care Improves Post-Extubation Cardiorespiratory Paramaters in Infants After Open Heart Surgery,â€ť2000, Acta Pedriatica, Vol 89 (6) 728-729
Kostandy et al. â€śKangaroo Care (Skin Contact) Reduces Crying Response to Pain in Preterm Neonates: Pilot Results,â€ť2008 Pain Manag Nurs. 9:55-65
Ludington-Hoe, S. â€śBreast Infant Temperature with Twins during shared Kangaroo Care,â€ť 2006 Journal of Obstetric , Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing, 35 (2) 223-231
Ludington-Hoe, S. Kangaroo Care: The Best You Can Do to Help Your Preterm Infant. Bantam Books, 1993, New York.
Lawn et al. â€śâ€™Kangaroo Mother Careâ€™ to Prevent Neonatal Deaths Due to Preterm Birth complications,â€ť.2010 April. International Journal of Epidemiology.
McCain, G et al. â€śHeart Rate Variability Responses of a Preterm Infant to Kangaroo Care,â€ť 2005 Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing,â€ť 34 (6), 689-694.
Messmer P. et al., â€śEffect of Kangaroo Care on Sleep Time for Neonates,â€ť 1997 Pediatr. Nurs. 23, no. 4 408-414.