Immediately after birth a newborn kangaroo, as small as a jelly bean, makes its first crawl out of its mother’s uterus, climbs up her body, and instinctually reaches the safety of her pouch. There it latches onto mother’s nipple to nurse. In order to be ready to emerge into the bigger world, the baby kangaroo will need to remain in the pouch for another 8-11 months and to grow to roughly a quarter of its mother’s weight. This is perhaps why Kangaroo Care is sometimes called a ‘womb outside the body.
What is so special about Kangaroo Care?
Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), which means holding a baby skin-to-skin on mother’s chest and exclusive and on-demand breastfeeding, became popular in 1978 when Dr. Edgar Rey Sanabria, Professor of Neonatology at Universidad Nacional de Colombia (Bogota, Colombia), suggested it as an alternative care of preemies with low birth weight instead of keeping them in NICU incubators. Soon, healthcare providers observed a precipitous drop in almost 70 per cent death rate among premature infants. Preemies were not only surviving but also thriving!
Kangaroo Care is much more than a simple technique or way of holding a baby due to its undeniable health and psychological benefits:
- It stabilizes premature baby’s heart rate and breathing, maintains the body temperature better than an incubator, and helps prevent baby’s blood sugar from dropping too low.
- It helps to relieve pain and becomes important if the baby needs to undergo blood tests or other painful procedures.
- Physical proximity to mother’s body helps the baby feel secure and calm down. Perhaps this is why babies who receive skin-to-skin care cry less and have the better sleep pattern.
- Premature babies who receive skin-to-skin care often gain weight better. KMC also improves the growth of their head circumference.
- The benefit of Kangaroo Care for breastfeeding is undisputable. The skin-to-skin contact stimulates the release of hormones prolactin and oxytocin responsible for making breast milk.
- Babies with poor latch may latch and nurse more effectively in skin-to-skin position. Those mothers who complain about low milk supply are usually advised to do skin-to-skin several times a day by lactation consultants.
- Kangaroo Care gives babies a feeling of warmth and comfort, and by doing so positively impacts their brain and emotional development.
Nowadays, not only mothers but also fathers and siblings enjoy the benefits of skin-to-skin contact to bond with their newly arrived family member. Kangaroo care helps mothers to overcome the stress and trauma of childbirth and to re-connect with their babies. For mothers with babies in NICUs, Kangaroo Care is about maximizing the effect of those limited bonding opportunities. Dads can enjoy the benefits of Kangaroo Care too and bond with their new baby through a physical contact. There is a trend now to arrange skin-to-skin sessions for newborns with their siblings.
When can I start doing a Kangaroo Care?
Depending on your baby’s and your condition, you can start Kangaroo Care immediately after giving birth, or you can wait until he or she becomes more stable. Find a comfortable place to sit and use several pillows to position yourself and the baby. A breastfeeding pillow is a good option too.You can also do Kangaroo care standing up or using a special baby wrap.
How shall I do a skin-to-skin contact?
Undress your baby and leave the diaper. Lay back in a reclining chair or in a bed, and place the baby in an upright position with his or her stomach down on your bare chest. Cover yourself and the baby with a soft blanket or a wrap.
If you want to enjoy all the physical and hormonal benefits of a skin-to-skin care, you will need to stay with your baby uninterrupted for at least 60 minutes. So, take your time and relax. Feel the warmth of your baby’s tiny body from top to toe. You held her inside your body for many months, and now you hold her on your body as if nothing has changed. Two hearts still bit as one.
Have you ever tried a Kangaroo Care? Did you notice any change in your baby’s behavior after that? Any photos? Share with us.