Is kangaroo care good for your baby’s development?
Posted on 26 October 2017
Kangaroo care – or skin-to-skin contact – is a vital form of developmental care that has many benefits for newborns, especially preterm babies. A Mediclinic Cape Town expert explains how to employ this simple but highly-effective approach after delivery.
When your baby emerges from the dark, warm haven of your womb, they’re entering a cold, bright, noisy, foreign world. To ensure your vulnerable newborn feels safe immediately, the best thing you can do for them is place them skin-to-skin on your bare chest so they can experience your toasty body, comforting heartbeat, soft voice and familiar smell.
Studies show this beautifully simple skin-to-skin contact – also known as kangaroo care, or kangaroo mother care (KMC) – leads to greater bonding with parents due to the release of the “bonding hormone” oxytocin. This results in less stress for all, and positively impacts your infant’s brain and emotional development.
Kangaroo mother care also regulates your baby’s heart rate, breathing and temperature, says Saira Alexander, a registered nurse and midwife at Mediclinic Cape Town. ‘We suggest all parents – yes, dads too – employ this approach because skin-to-skin contact is how babies stabilise, grow and develop the best,’ she says.’
It’s particularly crucial for premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). ‘Research shows that kangaroo mother care can improve preterms’ weight gain, stabilise their organ function and self-regulation abilities, help them experience less pain and crying, and avoid infections. It ensures they stay in hospital for shorter periods, facilitates better sleep patterns and sees them more willing to breastfeed,’ Alexander adds.
From a psychological and emotional point of view, kangaroo mother care also helps worried parents feel they’re doing something positive for their medically fragile child.
When to start kangaroo care
Kangaroo mother care should be started as soon as possible after delivery. For newborns weighing 2000g or less at birth, it should be initiated as soon as they’re clinically stable, recommends the World Health Organization (WHO).
‘During the day and night, use kangaroo mother care as often and as long as possible for premature babies.,’ Alexander says. ‘For full-terms, employ it regularly while in hospital. Once you get home, continue with it while feeding and whenever you want to. You can stop when your baby shows their discomfort by wriggling or crying.’
The most effective position for baby
Place your infant “tummy to mummy” and between your breasts with their head turned to one side just above the nipple line, Alexander says. ‘This means their tummy will be at the mom’s epigastrium (the upper middle part of the abdomen, above the navel and below the breast).
‘Extend their neck, but avoid hyper-extension. Keep their legs and arms flexed in a “frog” position. Use a binder (a long piece of fabric to tie around the mother and the baby) to secure your baby, making sure it comes just under their ears and covers their body.’
The benefits of breastfeeding in the kangaroo care position
Kangaroo mother care’s many benefits extend to breastfeeding too: it actually stimulates milk production, can make your baby more willing to breastfeed and ensures better latching, says Alexander. ‘For the ideal position, place your baby “tummy to mummy” so they can make eye contact with you and your breast. If the child is latching and feeding well don’t fret about their precise position.