More and more doctors are recommending kangaroo care for newborns.
All babies, and especially premature infants, need extra care to help them thrive. By keeping the baby close and breastfeeding, the baby gets all the right conditions to help them grow and continue their development after birth.
It is only in recent history that Western society has drifted away from carrying their babies to a caring method where the baby is left lying on his or her own with scheduled feedings. This trend disrupts the bonding an infant has with his or her mother, and sends the infant into stressful situation.
What is Kangaroo Care?
This practice is generally used when a premature baby is held so that the baby is in constant skin-to-skin contact with his mother. This method can also used with a full term baby.
The infant wears only a diaper, and is secured against the mother’s bare chest. This method is modeled after the way a kangaroo carries its baby from the time of its birth until it is old enough to leave its mother’s pouch.
This practice allows the baby to breastfeed on demand and to remain in constant contact with his or her mother, providing the baby with a secure, nurturing environment.
Throughout human history, mothers have instinctively carried their children close from the time of birth to keep them safe and keep them close to their food source. Since humans are born extremely immature compared to most other mammals, we need more intense care when we are new.
Who Can Benefit?
Both mothers and babies can benefit from this practice. This method of caring for newborns and premature babies puts breastfeeding and infant care into an anthropological context that fulfills the needs of both mother and child.
Premature babies especially need this time of close physical contact to help them catch up in their development. Many premature babies can do well without advanced medical care if they are at least 32 weeks of gestational age and if they are provided with Kangaroo Care. Physiologically, keeping the baby in skin to skin contact creates the most beneficial situation for the baby to thrive and develop.
It also keeps the baby in the flexed position they enjoyed in utero. Their breathing is stimulated by the pressure of the mother’s breathing on his or her chest and by the carbon dioxide-rich environment they are held in on the mother’s chest.
The breastfeeding relationship also benefits. The baby and mother learn to interact with each other instinctively, and the close contact between the two facilitates frequent feeding and nurturing.
The mother also benefits from immediate Kangaroo Care, as it may keep her distracted from any repair work that may need to be provided immediately after the birth. The mother and baby are encouraged to form a strong attachment from the very beginning, which will result in a more secure baby-parent relationship. Most mothers who have constant access to their newborns without interruption have more confidence in their parenting skills than those whose early time with baby was interrupted.
Dad can participate too by holding the baby in a similar position when mom is caring for herself or getting some rest.
Kangaroo Care Benefits
Any new baby can benefit from Kangaroo Care, but premature babies especially get a lot from being in constant skin to skin contact with their mother. The baby will be able to stabilize their temperature, heartbeat and breathing. The heart rate and breathing become coordinated and regular, increasing from the level recorded when a child is experiencing a protest-despair behavior. This behavior is seen frequently when the baby is separated from the mother after birth.
The baby’s body temperature is easily controlled in a safe range when kept skin to skin with his or her mother. The close contact can keep baby at a much better temperature than an incubator, and can work within a very narrow range. If baby gets cold, the mother’s body will actually warm up by up to two degrees Centigrade, or fall one degree if baby is too hot. Body contact is more efficient at warming up infants whose temperature has dropped.
The nutrition of the baby is improved by frequent breastfeeding and the stimulation of milk production. This frequent feeding increases the mother’s milk supply. With the extra stimulation the baby receives, his or her gut is able to use the milk more efficiently and grow more quickly. It has been shown that premature babies can breastfeed better than suck from a bottle because they can control the flow of milk from the breast much better than from a bottle. Premature babies are able to coordinate the needed sequence of suck, swallow, breath when breastfeeding much more easily.
The baby’s immunity will also be improved with Kangaroo Care. Premature babies have immature immune systems and are thus more prone to infections, allergies and feeding difficulties. Skin to skin contact helps resolve these problems. Because of the improved immune system, infections are reduced, even in babies who are otherwise compromised.
What Research Shows
Research from the University of Maryland at Baltimore proves that using this method helps conserve a baby’s energy as well as increases milk production in new mothers. Premature babies exhibit boosted brain development, according to Susan Ludington, who has directed many of these studies. According to her findings, just ten minutes of close contact with a parent can increase the fusion of the premature infant’s brain cells.
In another study from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, a mom with eclampsia used Kangaroo Care with her premature newborn to facilitate breastfeeding. Due to the mother’s health, these sessions were closely monitored by medical personnel. Kangaroo Care helped this mother and baby form a successful breastfeeding relationship.
A great site for additional information on kangaroo care and its benefits is Kangaroomothercare.com.