The ins and outs of kangaroo care

Blue Flower

Mothers of premature babies face plenty of challenges. 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 be surprised if your nurse or doctor recommends "kangaroo care" for your premature baby while you are in the hospital.

The history and origin of kangaroo care

In the late 1970s, preterm babies in Bogota, Columbia, were dying at very high rates due to a lack of resources and high infection rates. Dr. Edgar Rey Sanabria, eager to find a solution that would protect premature babies' health, began sending babies home with their mothers, recommending continuous skin-to-skin contact to help keep the preemies warm and breastfed as needed.

His method, which mimicked how a kangaroo mother carries her joey 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.

Kangaroo care benefits your premature baby and you

Skin-to-skin contact between baby and parent helps regulate baby’s temperature. 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.

The technique is simple to learn and, when performed properly, is very rewarding for mother and baby alike. Fathers can also "kangaroo" the baby, not only to give Mom a break to rest, but to strengthen his bond with his child.

How do you kangaroo?

Lay your baby — dressed only in a diaper and a hat — on your bare chest.

Turn her 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.

Breastfeed as needed.