Kangaroo care stands out as a remarkable practice that fosters the bond between parents and their infants. Originally pioneered in Colombia, this skin-to-skin contact technique has gained widespread recognition for its countless benefits. We had the pleasure of speaking with one of our Neonatal Pathway Education about the concept of kangaroo care, exploring its origins, benefits, and practical applications.
Rebecca Uddin, Neonatal Pathway Educator, shares: “Skin to skin is so important for promoting not only physiological stability in neonates and infants which in turn supports growth and brain development, but this then has a long-lasting positive effect into childhood and beyond. To create a healing environment during periods which can be highly stressful improves parental attachment and wellbeing for both baby's and their parents whilst in hospital.”
What is Kangaroo Care?
Kangaroo care is a method of holding and nurturing infants, especially premature or low birth weight babies, by placing them in direct skin-to-skin contact with their parent's chest. The term "kangaroo" alludes to the marsupial's way of carrying its young in a pouch, replicating the same warmth, security, and intimacy between parent and child. Kangaroo care was first developed in the 1970s by Dr. Edgar Rey Sanabria and Dr. Hector Martinez in Bogotá, Colombia.
In response to a shortage of incubators in their neonatal unit, they sought an alternative approach to provide optimal care for preterm infants. Inspired by observing kangaroos' pouch care, they introduced skin-to-skin contact as a means to regulate the baby's body temperature, enhance breathing, and improve overall well-being. The results were astonishing, leading to the widespread adoption of kangaroo care across the globe.
Benefits of Kangaroo Care
1 Regulation of Body Temperature
Premature babies have limited capacity to regulate their body temperature, making them susceptible to hypothermia. Kangaroo care helps maintain the baby's body temperature within a normal range by utilizing the parent's warmth, reducing the need for external heating devices.
2 Enhanced Bonding and Attachment
Skin-to-skin contact releases hormones such as oxytocin, known as the ‘love hormone’, which promotes bonding between parent and child. This intimate contact facilitates emotional connection, leading to a stronger parent-infant bond. Also, kangaroo care promotes successful breastfeeding by stimulating the baby's rooting reflex and encouraging the mother's milk production. The close proximity and skin contact aid in establishing a breastfeeding routine and provide a calm and secure environment for the infant.
3 Stabilized Heart Rate and Oxygen Levels
The gentle pressure and soothing touch of kangaroo care have shown to stabilize the baby's heart rate, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation levels. This stability aids in the overall development and reduces the risk of complications.
4 Reduced Stress and Pain
The physical and emotional comfort provided by kangaroo care reduces stress and alleviates pain for both the baby and parent. The familiar scent, sound of the heartbeat, and warmth create a nurturing environment that soothes the infant and promotes relaxation.
Kangaroo care is a simple and accessible practice that can be performed by parents in various settings, including hospitals, neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), and even at home.