Have you ever seen the picture of a kangaroo carrying its child? If you have, then you have a clear picture of what kangaroo care is all about. Kangaroo care or Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) is a method of holding a baby that involves skin to skin contact. The baby who is naked except for the diaper and a piece of clothing, is placed in an upright position against a parent’s bare chest. The snuggling of the baby inside the pouch of the parent’s shirt, which is like a kangaroo’s pouch led to the term kangaroo care.
Kangaroo care originated from Bogota, Columbia, where it was developed as an alternative to inadequate and insufficient incubator care for preterm newborn infants. Babies were dying of infections, respiratory problems and just plain lack of attention Researchers Rey and Martinez found out that babies who were held close to their mother’s bodies for long period of hours not only survived but thrived. Hospitals that encourage kangaroo care simply have the mothers or fathers provide skin to skin contact with their preterm babies for several hours of the day.
Many people think that kangaroo care is only for preterm babies, but research has shown that all babies, including full term babies benefit from kangaroo care. The key features of kangaroo care according to WHO are:
Early, prolonged and continuous skin to skin contact between mother and baby.
Exclusive breast feeding (ideally).
In a research carried out by WHO in low-income countries on the effects of kangaroo care on breast feeding, it was discovered that the method increased the prevalence and duration of breastfeeding.
Kangaroo care has a lot of benefits for babies and parents. For babies, Kangaroo care does the following:
It helps the baby adapt: Malika D. Shah, MD, assistant director of paediatrics and neonatology at the North Western University, Feinberg School of Medicine says that thermal regulation is a very common problem with infants, especially preterm babies. This might be because the baby didn’t have to control her temperature in the womb. Kangaroo care helps the baby’s thermal regulation adapt since your skin is the same temperature as the womb. The baby will be able to adapt easily to its post birth environment.
It boosts baby’s mental health: A recent Canadian study shows that preterm babies who received KMC had better brain functioning at 15 years old, when compared to full term babies as opposed to babies that were placed in the incubator. Susan M. Ludington R.N PhD, executive director of the United States Institute for Kangaroo Care, attributes this boost in mental health to stabilised heart rate, oxygenation and improved sleep as they help the brain to develop.
It promotes healthy weight: Ludington says that when children are warm, they do not need to use their energy for thermal regulation, so they use that energy to grow. KMC increases new baby weight gain.
It makes breastfeeding easier: Katie Dunning, clinical coordinator of labour and delivery at Mount Sinai Hospital says that “newborns instinctively have a heightened sense of smell, so placing the baby skin to skin helps her seek out the nipple and begin breast feeding.” In fact, research has shown that mothers who practice kangaroo mother care were more likely to breastfeed exclusively and breastfeed for a longer time than those who did not plan KMC.
It helps mothers produce more milk: When mothers and babies are together, the hormones that regulate lactation balance out, helping mothers to produce more milk.
It reduces baby’s stress and pain: According to Ludington, just 10 minutes of skin to skin contact reduces the level of baby’s stress hormones, cortisol, and increases the level of baby’s “cuddle hormone” oxytocin, which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to make babies feel safe and calm.
It helps babies sleep: Less stress equals better sleep. Experts say that preemies who were cradled skin to skin slept more deeply and woke up less often than those who slept in incubators.
It promotes bonding with dad: Babies find skin to skin contact with daddies calming and it helps them bond.
It prevents postpartum depression: According to the American Journal of Maternal/ Child Nursing, activities in the mother’s adrenal axis is negatively influenced by child birth, and skin to skin contact with the baby may reactivate the pathways to minimise the risk of depression. Ludington also supports this theory by stating that the oxytocin released from skin to skin care decreases maternal anxiety and promotes attachment, further reducing the risk of PPD.
WHO reports that mothers are significantly less stressed while giving kangaroo care than when giving the conventional care. The report also stated that fathers confessed to feeling more relaxed, comfortable and contented while providing KMC.
When it comes to Kangaroo care, more is definitely better. Experts say that the first 2 hours after birth is a crucial time for KMC to be implemented.
The Cleveland Clinic, USA has a few steps for you to follow while giving KMC.
Remove your bra and wear a shirt or blouse that opens in the front.
The baby, who should be wearing only a diaper and a cap, will be placed on your chest in an upright position.
Cover the baby with a shirt, blouse or blanket.
Then, relax and simply enjoy this awesome bonding experience.
Plan on holding your baby in this manner for at least 1 hour, 4-5 times a week.
Do not play with the baby; this is a time for the baby to rest.
Remember that fathers can also provide kangaroo care, as the different feel of the father’s body will provide a different stimulation to the baby.