Many parents of hospitalized babies in the NICU feel isolated from their little ones. Kangaroo Care (KC) may remedy some of those feelings and provide an opportunity for close bonding between parents and their newborn child.
There are many benefits of Kangaroo Care and few dangers. I will list and explain the most important ones in this article.
Kangaroo Care resembles what Kangaroos do to their children after birth. Kangaroo mothers have a physiological pocket on the bellies where they put their babies to carry around.
In the NICU, Kangaroo Care involves placing a newborn baby dressed only in a diaper and head cap on the bare chest of the mother or father. Then, we cover the baby with blankets to protect it from drafts and ensure stable body temperature. If the baby tolerates it well, parents can hold their baby even for 1-3 hours.
While the baby is receiving KC, the nurse will be monitoring the baby’s condition paying attention to body temperature and breathing pattern.
I want to emphasize that babies receiving KC always remain on their monitors and ventilators and continue receiving all necessary treatments.
What is the lowest weight or gestational age of baby that can receive KC? There is no such thing as minimum gestational age or weight for Kangaroo Care. More important is if that baby is stable enough. Often, premature babies have more stable vital signs parameters in their mothers’ arms than when placed alone in incubators (Source).
Benefits of Kangaroo Care
Doctors and nurses described numerous benefits of Kangaroo Care. Both parents and the baby can benefit from it.
Benefits for the baby
Improves weight gain over time and facilitates sooner discharge home
Without a doubt, close bonding between the mother and her baby positively influences her breast milk supply. Breast milk is like GOLD for extremely premature babies (my article on the benefits of BM).
One of the most desirable outcomes expected of premature babies is consistent and proper weight gain. The best tool to achieve this result is having maternal breast milk available for each baby. Babies fed breast milk will tolerate feedings better and likely will receive many other health benefits from it.
Helps with body temperature regulation
Very premature babies are at risk of developing low body temperature. It is due to many factors: less body fat, larger body surface area, inadequate amount of energy resources, and reduced brain ability to preserve thermoregulation.
Surprisingly, we often observe that babies placed on their mothers’ chests and covered with blankets, rarely have any temperature problems.
More sleep time and better quality of sleep
It is unfortunate, but NICU is a very noisy environment and probably not the best place for babies to sleep. Well, we do not give them a choice if they are born prematurely and need our care.
Several studies found that infants who were receiving regular Kangaroo Care had more sleep time, and their brains matured faster, achieving greater complexity (Source).
Decreased mortality and shorter hospitalization time
Kangaroo Care for premature babies and babies born with low birth weight should be promoted, particularly in low resource countries. In places where adequate neonatal care is not available, where doctors do not have incubators or IV fluids, KC can be life-saving.
Cochrane reviewers looked at many clinical studies and provided a summary of the findings. Kangaroo Mother Care was associated with decreased mortality rates, reduced rates of infections, and faster discharge home (Source).
Benefits for the mother or father
Improves bonding and decreases stress
The hardest part of having your baby in the NICU is being separated from it. Although some NICUs have private rooms where parents can stay with their babies all the time, it is not a common practice. Even when a hospital has adequate infrastructure, parents often have other children and obligations and can not stay with the baby for a prolonged time.
Providing Kangaroo Care allows for closer bonding with the baby and has the power to decrease parental stress levels.
Helps you to produce more breast milk
Having your baby skin to skin is the best tool in facilitating breast milk production. It has been established in many earlier studies that breast milk is the best medicine for premature babies, particularly micro-preemies. Premature delivery and separation of the mother from her baby negatively impact maternal milk production.
Kangaroo Care is a great way to rectify some of those problems. Close bonding between mother and baby always positively influences maternal milk production.
Improves your confidence that you can take care of your baby
Often, after the birth of extremely premature babies or micro-preemies, parents are afraid to touch them. They do not know how to care for their baby, how to take temperature, how to change a diaper, and so on.
Providing Kangaroo Care allows them for close observation of the baby and frequently increases their confidence. They get quickly convinced that the whole experience is not that scary, and they are ready for more challenges than “just” holding their baby.
Potential risks of Kangaroo Cgaroo Care
Kangaroo Care may have some risks. The obvious ones are that your baby may not tolerate it well and have temperature instability or breathing problems. The bedside nurse will monitor your baby for any signs of intolerance during KC and will intervene if necessary.
Another danger is that Kangaroo Care requires placement of your baby in a prone position. Positioning baby on its belly is generally discouraged in full-term babies to prevent SIDS. We are not aware of any increased risk for severe apneas in preterm babies receiving KC. However, babies receiving KC in the NICU must be continuously monitored.
If you have a premature baby born before 32 weeks receiving treatment in the NICU right now, I encourage you to explore my book “Babies Born Early“
This article is only for general information purposes. It should not be viewed as any medical advice. There is a chance that information here may be inaccurate. It would be best if you always discussed all health-related matters with your doctor before making any decisions that may affect yours or your family members’ health.