What Is Kangaroo Care?
Kangaroo care is a method of holding a baby that involves skin-to-skin contact. The baby, who is naked except for a diaper and a piece of cloth covering his or her back, is placed in an upright position against a parent's bare chest. This snuggling of the infant inside the pouch of their parent's shirt, much like a kangaroo's pouch, led to the creation of the term "kangaroo care."
What Are the Benefits of Kangaroo Care?
There are many advantages of kangaroo care for your baby. Key benefits include:
- Stabilization of the baby's heart rate.
- Improved (more regular) breathing patterns.
- Improved oxygen saturation levels (an indicator of how well oxygen is being delivered to all the infant’s organs and tissues).
- Gain in sleep time.
- More rapid weight gain.
- Decreased crying.
- More successful breastfeeding episodes.
- Earlier hospital discharge.
Parents benefit from kangaroo care too! They will experience:
- Improved bonding, feelings of closeness with their babies.
- Increased breast milk supply.
- Increased confidence in ability to care for their babies.
- Increased confidence that their babies are well cared for.
- Increased sense of control.
Why Does Kangaroo Care Work?
The benefits of kangaroo care listed above have all been demonstrated in research studies. In fact, studies have found that skin-to-skin holding stabilizes heart and respiratory rates, improves oxygen saturation rates, better regulates an infant's body temperature and conserves a baby's calories.
When a mother is kangarooing, the infant typically snuggles into the breast and falls asleep within a few minutes. The breasts themselves have been shown to change in temperature to accommodate a baby’s changing temperature needs. In other words, the breast can increase in temperature when the infant's body is cool and can decrease in temperature as the baby is warmed. The extra sleep that the infant gets snuggling with mom and the assistance in regulating body temperature helps the baby conserve energy and redirects calorie expenditures toward growth and weight gain. Being positioned on mom also helps to stabilize the infant's respiratory and heart rates. Finally, research has also shown that kangaroo care results in positive effects on brain development.
How to Get Started
Your nurse will discuss kangaroo care with you. General instructions for performing kangaroo care are as follows:
- Remove your bra and wear a blouse or shirt that opens in the front. (A hospital gown that opens in the front can be made available for your use.) Screens will be provided for your privacy.
- The baby, wearing only a diaper and hat, will be placed on your bare chest in an upright position.
- Cover the baby with your shirt, gown or a blanket.
- Plan on holding your baby for at least one hour, four or more times a week.
- Let your baby rest. This is not a time to play with your baby.
Fathers can provide kangaroo care for their babies too. The different feel of the father's body will provide different stimulation to the baby.
For further information, please contact your baby’s nurse.