What is kangaroo care?
Kangaroo care – also known as skin-to-skin contact -- is a technique in which a baby is placed in direct contact with a parent’s bare chest where he or she can cuddle, be rocked and hear the comforting sounds of the parent’s voice and heartbeat. The name comes from the way a mother kangaroo cares for her baby by holding her little one close to her body in her pouch.
The technique is simple: the diapered baby snuggles on the chest, with his or her back covered with a light blanket and usually with the head turned so one ear is positioned near the parent’s heart. Both mothers and fathers can provide kangaroo care.
Newborns greatly benefit from kangaroo care because it gives the baby an immediate sense of safety, security and warmth, which encourages bonding. That, in turn, results in a calmer, less stressful environment for the baby and encourages both physical and emotional development. While all babies can benefit from kangaroo care, it has proven to be especially valuable for premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Kangaroo care in the NICU
Kangaroo care has been proven to help premature babies in many ways, including:
- Keeps the baby warm
- Steadies breathing and heartbeat
- Helps the baby gain weight
- Stabilizes organ function
- Allows the baby to spend more time in deep and undisturbed sleep
- Reduces crying
- Encourages breastfeeding
- Helps the baby avoid infections
- Often decreases the length of hospital stays
Kangaroo care also offers other advantages for NICU babies and their moms.
- Are more attached and bonded to their mothers
- Are more alert after six months
- Show more social competence, positive sense of self and increased cognitive and motor development in early childhood
- Increase production of breast milk
- Feel more needed and connected while babies are in the NICU
- Are more attuned to their infant’s cues
- Gain confidence in caring for a medically fragile child
- Experience less depression and stress
Does kangaroo care have advantages for full-term babies?
Full-term babies enjoy all of the same advantages of skin-to-skin contact as preemies.
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