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Mothers of premature babies face plenty of challenges in caring for and raising their infant. Fortunately, modern neonatal intensive care units (NICU) are well equipped to monitor, feed, and care for preterm infants around the clock, and help mothers gain the confidence they need to become successful parents. But do not feel surprised if your nurse or doctor recommends "kangaroo care" for your premature baby while she is in the hospital.
The history and origin of kangaroo care
Preterm babies born in Bogota, Columbia, in the late 1970s were dying at very high rates. A lack of resources — such as incubators and nurses — in combination with high infection rates in the neonatal department, drove Dr. Edgar Rey Sanabria to find a solution that freed up equipment and staff, and protected premature babies' health. He began sending babies home with their mothers and recommended continuous skin-to-skin contact to help keep them warm and breastfed as needed.
Kangaroo care benefits your premature baby and you
His method, which mimicked how a kangaroo mother carries babies in her pouch, has been shown through decades of research to stabilize heart and respiratory rates, regulate body temperature, and conserve energy in preterm babies.
Skin-to-skin contact allows the mother's breasts to warm and cool, adjusting to the baby body's changing temperature needs. Research also shows that premature babies are capable of recognizing their mother's scent and voice, which produces a calming and comforting effect that aids in their development.
How to perform kangaroo care with your premature baby
The technique is simple to learn and, when performed properly, very rewarding for mother and baby alike. Fathers can also "kangaroo" their baby, not only to give mom a break to rest, but to strengthen the bond with their child.
Follow these simple steps:
Lay your baby — dressed only in a diaper and a hat — on your bare chest.
Turn your baby's head to one side so her ear rests slightly above your heart. Some mothers choose to wrap their baby to their body using a sheet or robe.
Keep the baby's head upright and uncovered to allow for unrestricted breathing.
If possible, your baby should stay in the kangaroo care position for at least an hour to ensure that one complete sleep cycle has occurred.
Your NICU team will possibly encourage you to spend several hours per day performing kangaroo care with your premature baby. Remember to give yourself a break if you feel tired or sore and ask a nurse or physician for assistance if you need help.