Kangaroo care is known to improve outcomes for premature babies and can be encouraged in neonatal units from as early as babies being born at 26 weeks gestation. Kangaroo care can also be used for your full-term baby and continued after your baby is no longer needing special care.
What is kangaroo care?
The name originates, quite simply, from kangaroos, who give birth to extremely underdeveloped babies (joeys) the size of jellybeans, which then crawl into their mother’s pouch to continue the rest of their development, for around 7 months. The pouch provides the joey with the perfect environment for development, as it is comforting, always the right temperature and has a constantly accessible food supply, as the nipple and milk supply are within the pouch too.
By creating a similar environment as the kangaroo does for their joey, for premature babies, it easy to see how this can help them to grow and develop better than being in an incubator, as their immediate needs are met quickly.
Premature babies respond to skin to skin contact and human touch positively, as much as full term newborns and human beings in general do. Skin-to-skin contact is also known to stimulate the release of endorphins and oxytocin, which contribute to the bonding process between mum and baby (partners can also do kangaroo care).
What are the benefits of kangaroo care for me and my baby?
- Your baby can stabilise their heart rate, breathing and body temperature more easily, this in turn improves their oxygen saturation readings.
- Your baby will use their precious calories more efficiently, as they are able to conserve energy that may have been wasted during temperature and heart rate regulation.
- They are more likely to gain weight quicker due to conserving calories and having easier access to the breast for feeding.
- It has been shown to have a positive effect on brain development, which is likely to be due to increased production of oxytocin and a reduction in adrenaline and cortisol, as they feel much more secure and safe next to another human.
- Due to the above, your baby may be discharged from the neonatal unit sooner.
If you want to do kangaroo care with your premature baby, ask your neonatal nurse about how is best to go about this, as premature babies have very individualised needs. It is often possible to do this even with many tubes and leads on your baby, if your baby’s condition is stable.
The basic principles of facilitating kangaroo care
- Always use a thorough handwashing routine before picking up your baby. Premature babies have a much more delicate immune system and are more susceptible to picking up infections. Infections can also have a greater impact upon them too.
- Try to have as much skin to skin contact as possible with your baby. This could be restricted by wires etc but should still be possible. Undress your baby as much as is possible.
- Have your baby in skin to skin for as long as their or your routine permits it. If you need to stop then maybe your partner can take over?
- Try to breastfeed your baby to provide them with the best start, as breastmilk is formulated to aid digestion and support gut health. Premature babies often need a lot of help with this as they can struggle to suckle. Ask about expressing your breastmilk so your baby can be given this instead of formula via a tube or bottle.
- Get to know your baby’s likes and responses through touch, talking, singing, playing music etc
SummaryThere are many benefits to kangaroo care that not only help with bonding and attachment, but which also have positive physical and psychological effects upon both mum and baby. Kangaroo care is not just beneficial for premature babies and can be used with full term babies too.