added Jun. 19th, 2013
Mom and baby are finally home from the hospital. Everyone is exhausted and stressed out. The baby won’t latch, or is flailing and mom is ready for a meltdown. The bad news is that as mothers, we've all been there before. The good news is you have everything you need – as a mother – to care for and bond with your baby. Some quiet time, a little nurturing and “kangaroo care” will go a long way in boosting your mom self-esteem when you see the benefits for both you and your baby.
What is Kangaroo Care?
Kangaroo care, or skin-to-skin contact, takes place when a mom or caregiver holds an infant, dressed only in a diaper, in a vertical position against their bare chest for an uninterrupted period of time, preferably for 60-minute sessions.
Kangaroo care began in the 1970s in Bogota, Columbia. At the time, babies lacked proper nutrition, caregivers were scarce and so were resources. People soon learned that skin-to-skin contact provided better outcomes in infant mortality rates. In the U.S., the practice became common in the 1980s. Since then, with the advancement of technology and artificial environments, researchers have taken another look at kangaroo care and its natural benefits.
Benefits of Kangaroo Care
Studies show that holding your baby skin-to-skin – especially against each other’s chests – activates the C-afferent nerve which is positioned along your collar bone and sternum. When stimulated, this C-afferent nerve triggers the natural hormone oxytocin that delivers strong physiologic and emotional benefits for both mom and baby. In addition, skin-to-skin contact helps mother and baby bond.
“Holding your baby skin-to-skin definitely helps with the bonding and nurturing process,” Donalee Larsen, Pediatric Medical Assistant for 36 years, said. “It replicates what they felt inside the womb. Babies know their mothers voice; skin-to-skin allows them to also know her feel and touch.”
Sally Wright of La Leche League of Utah would agree. “As a breastfeeding counselor, I’ve seen time and time again the benefits of biological nurturing such as kangaroo care.” Wright has been a breastfeeding counselor for over six years in Utah. “Skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby helps restore good breathing, helps moderate heart rates and calms them both down.”
Studies show that kangaroo care is a multi-sensory experience that helps to accelerate brain maturation and regulates heart rate and breathing. It also reduces crying and stress in the baby and easily regulates the baby’s body temperature through thermoregulation. A content baby also sleeps more soundly, aiding in brain development. Skin-to-skin contact helps the baby move naturally to the breast when hungry. La Leche League of Utah recommends any gentle practice that supports breastfeeding.
“My first child was born a month premature, with complications such as jaundice,” said Kim J., mother of two in Murray. “He needed to be in direct sunlight daily but it was a chilly October so my mother suggested we sit naked together near the window. My body heat helped keep him warm and content. He was instantly calmer. We both were. He slept better, ate better and became a much happier baby. It even cured my mastitis.”
For mom, in addition to the bonding advantage, kangaroo care contact reduces the risk of postpartum depression and helps to stimulate milk production. The increased levels of maternal oxytocin aids mom in recovery and psychological well-being.
When to Practice Kangaroo Care
Kangaroo care should be considered as part of the mother’s birth plan. The baby should be placed on the mother right after birth. All tests on the newborn can be done in the skin-to-skin position. Upon arriving home from the hospital, kangaroo care should be done multiple times a day for a suggested 60 minutes, over the first three months of life.
“I started kangaroo care with my second child right at birth,” said Kim J. “From the start she slept through the night and was a very calm baby. I would recommend it to all mothers – regardless of whether they have any problems or not with breastfeeding or postpartum depression – the bonding experience alone is worth it.”
Who Should Use Kangaroo Care
Kangaroo care is primarily used a lot by moms with premature babies but has great benefits for full-term babies, too. Kangaroo care can be a family affair: dads, grandparents and siblings can deliver skin-to-skin benefits to baby as well. These days, you can even perform kangaroo care outside of the home, without ‘sharing’ too much skin: there are many products on the market designed to be used for skin-to-skin, from shirts to slings and everything in between.