Kangaroo mamas and us human mamas have something in common to offer our babies. When a newborn kangaroo (a joey) is born, it goes directly into its mother’s pouch for the first eight months of its life. Her pouch offers comfort, warmth, safety and protection that the joey can’t provide for itself. Believe it or not, we, as human mothers, can offer this to our newborns with the same benefits, as has been scientifically documented.
Though I suspect that Kangaroo care has been used around the world for centuries, the first documentation of it being used specifically to help a group of babies and termed ‘kangaroo care’ was in Bogota, Columbia in the late 1970’s, as a response to the high death rate in preterm babies there. “There, the death rate for premature infants was 70 percent. The babies were dying of infections, respiratory problems, and simply due to lack of attention. Researchers found that babies who were held close to their mothers’ bodies for large portions of the day not only survived, but thrived”(Cleveland Clinic).
I am sure you have seen the many stories shared where a baby is born stillborn, but after being placed on a mother’s chest, skin to skin, the baby starts to breathe. The connection of the skin to skin contact is no coincidence.
There are many benefits of kangaroo care. “The baby has a stable heart rate (no bradycardia), more regular breathing (a 75 percent decrease in apneic episodes), improved oxygen saturation levels, no cold stress, longer periods of sleep, more rapid weight gain, more rapid brain development, reduction of “purposeless” activity, decreased crying, longer periods of alertness, more successful breastfeeding episodes, and earlier hospital discharge. Benefits to the parents include “closure” over having a baby in NICU; feeling close to their babies (earlier bonding); having confidence that they can care for their baby, even better than hospital staff; gaining confidence that their baby is well cared for; and feeling in control” (Richardson).
“In addition to benefits that are observable in the NICU, research points to long-term advantages as well. Newborns who experienced kangaroo care in the NICU were more attached and bonded to their mothers over time. Babies were more alert after six months and their mothers were more attuned to their infant’s cues and experienced less depression. In early childhood, children receiving kangaroo care also show increased social competence, a positive sense of self and improved cognitive and motor development. These benefits are all signs of healthy brain development” (Beatty).
“The word “kangaroo” is used as such animals have very immature offspring, like premature babies. But in reality, this kangaroo like skin-to-skin contact is actually essential for human newborns, as all primates are cared for in this way also. So Kangaroo Mother Care should be for ALL NEWBORNS …not just prematures”(KMC). All babies experience stress when being separated from their mother. “Humans are the only mammals who practice such maternal-neonate separation, but its physiological impact on the baby has been unknown until now (Study done in 2011). Researchers measured heart rate variability in 2-day-old (full term) sleeping babies for one hour each during skin-to-skin contact with mother and alone in a cot next to mother’s bed. Neonatal autonomic activity was 176% higher and quiet sleep 86% lower during maternal separation compared to skin-to-skin contact”(Science Daily).
Of course, you don’t need anything to practice kangaroo care. Placing the baby skin to skin with a blanket over you both is a great way to practice. But, like just about anything else, ‘there’s something for that.” And, they’re kind of cool – shirts that allow you to place the baby skin to skin so that you have a bit more mobility while practicing skin to skin. Here’s what’s on the market. (Each image is linked to where to buy).
Have a story about kangaroo care or skin to skin that you want to share? We’d love to hear it!
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