Preterm or premature newborns staying in neonatal care units have special needs. While most of these needs are taken care of by the medical team, you too can support your preterm baby’s growth and development by practicing guided kangaroo mother care.
Kangaroo mother care (KMC) refers to early, continuous, and prolonged skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the newborn, facilitating frequent and exclusive breastfeeding, necessary for early hospital discharge (1). Experts suggest that KMC is an easy-to-use and cost-effective technique for supporting premature babies’ better physical and physiological development and promote parent-baby bonding (2).
This post tells you about when kangaroo mother care is necessary, how it works, its benefits, and helpful tips for practicing kangaroo care with your baby.
When Is Kangaroo Mother Care Needed?
Kangaroo mother care was developed in Bogota, Colombia, in the late 1970s to prevent infant mortality due to inadequate intensive care facilities (3). However, even with advanced neonatal care facilities, experts recommend kangaroo mother care for:
- Premature babies staying in the neonatal care units
- Newborns weighing 2kg or less at birth (low birth weight)
- Full-term babies staying in the hospital due to certain medical conditions
Kangaroo mother care right after birth is also recommended for healthy, full-term babies to let mother-baby duo reap short and long-term health benefits. If, for some reason, the mother isn’t available for skin-to-skin contact, the father or the primary caregiver can do it for the time being.
Steps To Provide Kangaroo Care For The Baby
Kangaroo care requires you to hold your baby belly-down next to your bare chest. Most mothers can start kangaroo mother care soon after delivery, but some may have to wait longer.
Here are some steps that you can follow to kangaroo care for your baby (4).
- Shower before visiting the hospital so that your skin is clean. Do not wear perfume or scented lotions as they can irritate the small baby. Also, do not smoke before the kangaroo session. If you are ill or have rashes on your chest, don’t do kangaroo until you are well or the rashes are healed.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes that you can open from the front, or you can ask the hospital staff for a front-open feeding gown. Remove the bra so that the baby can have direct contact with your skin.
- Sit in a comfortable position on a chair beside the baby’s bed or ask for a bed. If privacy is your concern, request for curtains around you while kangarooing.
- Place the baby in an upright position with their chest against your chest and their face turned to the side for breathing. Ensure your baby is lying on your chest bare-skinned with only diapers on. This position is called the kangaroo position.
- Cover yourself and the baby with a blanket. You should do this with the assistance of a family member or hospital staff after you and your baby are seated in comfortable positions. Using a blanket helps keep you and the baby warm while you both snuggle.
- Relax with your baby and avoid distractions. Ideally, you should plan to kangaroo care for at least 60 minutes per session. You can do it longer depending on your and the baby’s comfort. Avoid using cellphones or watching television while kangarooing. Instead, talk to your baby, read a book, or sing a lullaby to stimulate your baby’s hearing skills.
- Plan multiple kangaroo sessions a week. Several mothers do kangaroo care for an hour, four or more times every week. However, this frequency varies and mainly depends on your baby’s health and your pediatrician’s directions. Talk to your healthcare provider and plan these sessions accordingly.
While most preterm babies need kangaroo mother care, it may not be suitable for those in incubators with arterial catheters and ventilator support. You may have to wait for the baby’s health to improve before you can try kangaroo care.
How Does Kangaroo Mother Care Work?
Preterm or premature babies usually have issues regulating several body functions, such as maintaining body temperature. Experts suggest that the mother-baby skin-to-skin contact could help in such instances by utilizing the three components of kangaroo care (5)
- Early and continuous skin-to-skin contact: The skin-to-skin contact in the kangaroo position helps the baby feel the mother’s warmth, necessary to feel safe and secure. Besides, it helps regulate the neonate’s body functions, such as thermoregulation, and facilitates early breastfeeding.
- Exclusive breastfeeding: Placing the baby on the mother’s chest will prompt them to latch to the breast. Once the baby latches successfully, they begin to suckle; this is known as kangaroo nutrition. Premature babies born at 34 weeks or after can breastfeed (7). If the newborn can’t breastfeed, the mother can feed expressed breast milk.
- Support and early discharge: Kangaroo care could promote the early discharge of the baby. Once a newborn can maintain their temperature, gain weight, and feed well, they will be discharged. Upon discharge, the mother can kangaroo care at home with family support. Specialized follow-ups ensure that the process continues smoothly at home.
Throughout this process, patience and perseverance are imperative to reap the short- and long-term health benefits of kangaroo care for the baby.
What Are The Benefits Of Kangaroo Mother Care?
Kangaroo mother care holds several benefits for the parents and the babies (1).
Kangaroo care benefits for babies
- Better temperature control and less crying allow the baby to adjust to the world outside the womb smoothly and helps them sleep soundly.
- Improved oxygen saturation helps stabilize cardiorespiratory function, necessary to save energy expenditure, owing to which most preterm babies gain weight.
- Early initiation of breastfeeding as the infant learns to self-attach or latch and suckle.
- Better immune system functioning that protects the baby from infections and certain diseases. It is also necessary for a baby to conserve energy and gain healthy weight.
- Rapid weight gain due to prolonged and continuous breastfeeding necessary for proper physical growth and development.
- Early hospital discharge as the baby can maintain body temperature, feed well without support, and is gaining weight.
Kangaroo care benefits for parents
- Promote breast milk production and supply by stimulating the maternal instincts necessary to regulate hormones, such as prolactin and oxytocin. It eventually helps establish a healthy breast milk supply.
- Develop a parent-baby bond vital for stirring the parental instincts that motivate a parent to nurture the baby with focus and diligence.
- Enhance emotional satisfaction and reduces stress by assuring that one can care for their baby and support their long-term growth and development.
- Instill confidence that parents understand their baby’s needs. This confidence helps promote positive parenting skills.
Kangaroo mother care is a cost-effective, easy-to-use method to care for preterm babies. Holding a baby close to one’s bare skin makes the baby feel warm and comfortable. Besides, it offers emotional satisfaction to the parent, reducing the stress that parents may feel while staying away from their baby. Kangaroo mother care could lay the foundation for the healthy growth and development of the baby.
2. Skin-to-skin contact; UNICEF
3. Kangaroo mother care: a practical guide; WHO
4. Kangaroo Care for Your Infant; Nationwide Children’s
5. Kangaroo Mother Care; WHO-Collaborating Center for Training and Research in Newborn Care, AIMS
6. Kangaroo Mother Care; The Embryo Project, Arizona State University
7. Breastfeeding premature babies in the NICU; Raising Children