At some point during your pregnancy or your baby’s infanthood, you may have come across the term ‘Kangaroo Care.’ This revolutionary movement based on skin-to-skin contact has been alleged to help premature babies survive and thrive against all odds. A concise clinical study conducted in 2004 by Dr. Bergman produced life-changing results – showing that all premature babies starting skin-to-skin contact with a parent from birth stabilised within six hours, as opposed to only half the babies placed in incubators. So what is Kangaroo Care and why does it work?
Firstly, holding your unclothed baby to your naked chest is like placing them in a human incubator. Maternal body temperatures, especially in the breast area, regulate to the baby’s body temperature needs. When held skin-to-skin, the baby’s body temperature will depend on its mother’s body temperature regulation, allowing the baby’s body to consume less calories to produce warmth.
This tender contact also helps the baby regulate its respiratory and heart rate, encouraging more breathing stability and soothing in a way nothing else can. Babies are not as effective in regulating their own breathing and heart rate patterns, and when they feel overly tired or stressed, their internal systems become chaotic. Thus, with the help of their mother’s loving touch, they are internally regulated in highly beneficial physical and psychological ways.
The respiratory, heart rate and body temperature regulation stability effects from Kangaroo Care all promote a deep and more restful sleep in infants, and we all know just how much sleep babies need in their early months! The increased levels of restful sleep leads to calmer babies. But more importantly, healthier babies that gain weight more steadily and experience less fussing, crying and pain related to certain complications at birth.
Why do we call Kangaroo Care a powerful gift? Because that’s just what it is. Being skin-to-skin with mom helps a baby feel utterly and completely safe. Your heartbeat, your smell, the rhythm of your breathing and the temperature of your body all promote a sense of security and emotional wellbeing in your infant. This is not only highly beneficial for your baby, but for you too.
Wayward hormones and the emotional after-effects of the birthing process are all healed through the bonding and physiological benefits of this precious contact. It is even highly recommended for breastfeeding. Our bodies are magnificent things! This physical contact with your baby stimulates breast milk production and an ensuing wave of feel-good hormones that help you connect with your new family member.
So how do you go about Kangaroo Care?
Firstly, start as soon as possible. If at all possible, you should begin Kangaroo Care immediately after birth, even if your baby is premature and strapped up to wires. Remove your top and all your baby’s clothing and place your baby between your breasts with a blanket scented and softened with baby safe fabric softener over their back to maintain warmth.
Get comfortable, and try to keep your contact sessions no shorter than an hour, as studies have shown at least an hour is needed to induce a healthy sleep pattern in your infant. The longer you keep up with this exceptional gift of touch, the more likely your baby is to grow into a socially sound, healthy and happy individual.