Kangaroo Care for every baby

Editor’s note: May 15 is Kangaroo Care Awareness Day, on observance designed to increase awareness of Kangaroo Care and skin-to-skin contact. This is one of the many ways that mothers and fathers and their babies can benefit from Attachment Parenting International‘s Fourth Principle of Parenting: Use Nurturing Touch.

unnamedToday is Kangaroo Care Awareness Day, a day we at NüRoo are proud to celebrate, as it highlights the importance and benefits of the practice of Kangaroo Care. More than 40 years of research has proven that in the early months of life, Kangaroo Care (KC) — also referred to as skin-to-skin contact — creates remarkable benefits for mom and baby.

KC is a method of holding your baby, who is only wearing a diaper, placed vertically on mom’s bare chest, creating full chest-to-chest contact. Holding your baby this way stimulates the C-afferent nerve, which produces a hormonal cascade, and — when practiced for an uninterrupted 
60 minutes — delivers incredible physiological and psychological benefits for both mom and baby.

The benefits for baby include:

  • Accelerated brain development
  • Reduction of cortisol (stress hormone) and crying
  • Regulation of body temperature, heart rate and breathing
  • Increase in quality of sleep
  • Enhanced immune system
  • Stimulation of digestion and weight gain
  • An increase in breastfeeding behavior.

Equally important, the practice offers benefits for mom that include:

  • A decreased risk of postpartum depression
  • Increased milk production
  • Increased pain tolerance
  • Higher levels of psychological well-being
  • Reduction in postpartum bleeding, cortisol levels and blood pressure.

Pretty amazing, right? Mother Nature truly has set us up with some incredible wiring!

Who coined the term “Kangaroo Care”?

KC originated in 1980 in Bogota, Colombia — a city with limited access to medical facilities and resources. In the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) there, babies lacked proper nutrition, mothers were often abandoning their children, and overcrowding and shared incubators were a common occurrence. Given these circumstances, 80% of all preterm infants born were failing to thrive. Dr. Edgar Rey Sanabria and Dr. Hector Martinez introduced a method to alleviate the shortage of caregivers and lack of resources.

Rita and RachelThey witnessed a grandmother in a remote village holding her grandchild, under layers of clothing and wraps, tucked between her breasts on her bare skin. They commented that it was like a kangaroo carrying her joey in a pouch.

They were shocked to find the babies in this village were thriving! Returning back to their work, they implemented what they saw at a hospital where the average temperature was only 50 degrees F. They suggested that mothers have continuous skin-to-skin contact with their babies to better thermo-regulate and provide proper and continuous breastfeeding nutrition. Check out these gorgeous gifts for twins you can get online.

Over the course of their first year, they observed a 10% reduction in the mortality and morbidity rates simply by keeping mom and baby together . The incubators were no longer crowded, and with the increased bonding, fewer and fewer women were abandoning their children. The doctors presented their findings in 1983 at the first global conference of fetal neonatal medicine.

This became an “ah-ha” moment for the rest of the world.

How to do Kangaroo Care?

While Kangaroo Care is skin-to-skin contact, it’s important to know that proper placement of baby is vital to delivering the benefits of KC. While some moms will mention that they breastfeed several times a day — thereby holding baby directly to their bare skin — this position will not deliver the hormonal cascade, and all the resulting benefits of KC.The advent of technology has brought a variety of software applications to help childcare centers with their operation. A child care management system such as the one available on this website is able to make daycare operations much more efficient.

Similarly, there is a difference between full chest-to-chest, skin-to-skin contact and babywearing. To achieve the benefits of KC, you need to have direct contact of baby’s bare chest with direct contact of mom’s bare chest. Anything between you and the baby — even a bra — disturbs the C-afferent nerve stimulation. Cheek-to-chest contact is sweet as can be, but doesn’t deliver the physiologic benefits of KC.

To properly position baby for KC:

  1. Mom* should be completely topless — not even a bra —  and semi-reclined, with baby wearing only a diaper.
  2. Place baby in a vertical position directly against mom’s bare chest, with baby’s shoulders resting on or above her breasts.
  3. Cover baby with a blanket to keep warm. Baby’s head should be turned to one side with the neck straight, not flexed or extended. Make sure baby’s nose and mouth remain uncovered and you can see their face at all times.

NICUGentryTo gain all the benefits, baby needs to be skin-to-skin on your chest for an uninterrupted 60 minutes. While some of the benefits, 
such as regulation of baby’s body temperature and reduction of baby
’s post-procedural pain occur within minutes of KC, others — such as decreased levels of stress for mom and baby, increase 
in mom’s milk production or a healthy sleep cycle for baby — take longer.

*Note: KC is not just for biological mothers and their babies: Partners and adoptive parents, for instance, also reap the benefits of KC when the nerves on the chest are stimulated.

Can all babies do Kangaroo Care?

n14211043_37998228_9686-300x225While the practice of KC originated with preterm infants, it has been widely proven to be an important practice for all newborns, and as such, is recommended by leading health organizations such as the World Health Organization, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). In fact, the AAP recently updated its recommendations, encouraging Kangaroo Care for every baby immediately following birth through their first three months of life, and as often as possible.

There’s a Pause Button, Just in Case

“It’s green. Really green,” said my midwife just after my water broke. The amniotic fluid was meconium-stained, and my mind went to the worst.

“So he’ll end up with some in his lungs?” I asked. 

She threw out a percentage of babies who aspirate meconium, and I don’t recall the exact figure, but it was in the 20s. And she said of those, not all babies have problems from meconium aspiration.

That was enough to keep me from worrying. After all, I had work to do.

My midwife told me that she would have the neonatal team at the ready, just in case. Of course, I wasn’t focusing on much of anything at that point, except getting the baby earthside.

When my sweet boy was born, there was no cry. Nobody in the room smiled. Instead, there was a mix of hesitation and silent commotion. Everyone faced the warming table, where the neonatal team was hard at work trying to stabilize him.

The nurse came over to tell me that I could hold him briefly, but that he would need to go to the NICU right away. When she handed him to me, I held him for just a moment, gave him a kiss and willingly handed him back. He was struggling, and I didn’t want to waste another second. I wanted him to go wherever he needed to go to get better.

We later found out that my baby had a collapsed lung and had to stay in the isolette under oxygen therapy. I couldn’t hold him for three days and I couldn’t nurse him for four.

I worried that the separation would tamper with our biological bonding mechanisms. I wondered whether he felt secure and comforted. I wondered how this would affect my hormones and my milk supply. I worried that he felt abandoned.

I wondered if it hurt to have a hole in your lung.

For my baby’s first few days, I would sit near his isolette, occasionally reaching in to trace his little fingers with mine.

On the third day, the nurse told me that the doctor thought that kangaroo care (holding the baby skin-to-skin) would help him make some strides toward recovery. I tried hard to keep it cool, but I failed hard – I burst into tears right then and there. I had waited so long to hold my baby boy.

When the nurse handed him to me for the first time, I felt that rush of love you hear about – that same surge of emotion that I felt right after the birth of my first two babies when the nurses handed them to me.

All this time, I thought I had missed my window. But it was there, waiting for our little reunion.

There was no doubt that that feeling was our bonding hormones at work. I knew because it was familiar. I had felt that before with my first two babies and it is an indescribable feeling that cannot be replicated. As for more concrete evidence that the hormones were in working order, I had been pumping 0.2 or 0.3 mL of colostrum at a time (drops!) and after I held my boy I filled a full 3 mL.

The next day, the doctor suggested I try to nurse him. I expected a learning curve, as he had gone days without learning to breastfeed instead of initiating within minutes of birth. But I was wrong. The little champ latched like a pro right away.

My sweet boy is now off of the growth charts, strong as a bull and he’s the happiest and most loving baby I have ever seen. All you have to do is make eye contact with him and he’ll give you a big cheeky toothless smile that just puts you deeper under his spell. And I have every reason to believe that we have established a secure attachment that we will build upon for a lifetime.

I hope I’m not diminishing the importance of bonding immediately after birth. Mother and baby are primed for bonding during this time and should make the most of those short minutes and hours if they can. Just know that if you have to wait a few hours or days to begin getting to know each other, it will be okay.

 

 

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