By Vandita Rajesh
What is Kangaroo care?
Kangaroo Care as the name suggests, is literally holding your naked baby close to you on your bare chest, to provide the essential skin-to-skin contact. This skin-to-skin contact is an easy and powerful routine care for babies to promote better development and well-being. Kangaroo care is widely used all over the world for low birth weight babies (those who weigh 2000 grams or less at birth) to improve their health. This is a highly recommended care for pre-term and low birth weight babies and should be initiated within 24 hours of birth. Full-term babies can also benefit from this skin-to-skin contact as it promotes better breastfeeding, sleeping, and bonding between the mother (or caregiver) and baby.
Why is it beneficial?
Research highlight several important benefits of Kangaroo Care
- Healthy weight gain: Kangaroo care promotes breast-feeding as the intimate skin contact with the baby stimulates the production of breast milk. Babies who experience the skin-to-skin contact tend to breast feed easily and for longer time, which improves their weight and overall growth.
- Improves immunity: The close contact with mother helps in the transfer of bacteria that protect the baby from infections and subsequent illness
- Stabilizes the breathing: Kangaroo care regulates the heart rate of the baby and improves the supply of oxygen to the blood.
- Regulates the baby’s body temperature: The presence of the baby on the mother’s bare skin releases the maternal hormone oxytocin. The temperature on the mother’s skin increases to accommodate the baby’s need and generates warmth to the baby. This helps to regulate the baby’s body temperature and prevent hypothermia or loss of body heat.
- Reduces stress among mothers and babies: The skin-to-skin contact is therapeutic as it fosters feeling of security that is calming for the baby. It helps to reduce maternal anxiety, instills confidence in the mother to care for the little one, and enhances the bonding between mother and baby.
- Better sleep and brain development: Babies who are under kangaroo care are able to fall asleep easily and sleep well, which helps the brain to develop the neural pathways.
When and How to Provide Kangaroo Care?
Kangaroo care can start at the hospital and can be continued at home as well. Skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby is an essential feature. Below are a few important guidelines to follow:
- A sitting or reclined position is ideal for skin-to-skin contact. A chair/recliner/bed with good backrest will ease any back pain; use pillows or folded blankets to provide additional back support. If you are unable to sit then you can lie down and elevate you upper body with a few pillows and rest.
- Undress your baby and place your baby on your bare chest in between your breasts in a “frog” shaped position.
- Cover you little one with a soft comfortable swaddle blanket to maintain warmth.
- If you prefer to have your arms covered or if it is very cold, a front open top/nightgown/sweater will work well. You can also use a long cloth or cotton sari to bind your baby to you.
- Ensure that your baby’s head is turned to one side so that the baby can lie comfortably on your chest. In this position the baby can breathe easily and you can maintain eye-to-eye contact.
- Spend at least 1 hour with your baby. Try to do it 2-3 times a day in the initial days after delivery and gradually reduce the time as your baby grows.
- As tempting as it maybe, this is not the time to chat with others, check your cell phones or watch a movie. It is quiet time to connect, relax and enjoy bonding with your baby. So please keep all gadgets and distractions away.
Who can provide Kangaroo Care?
Both mothers and fathers can provide kangaroo care as babies benefit from the bonding experience with both parents. Moreover, fathers can be involved in the care process and support their partner when they need a break. Additionally, other family members like grandparents can also provide kangaroo care. It is essential that the person providing the care to the baby always maintain good hygiene.
What to do if…. ?
- There is no privacy: It is often not easy to find a private place in cities where apartments are small. If you have a separate room use that room for kangaroo care, otherwise a curtain or screen will help you to get the privacy you need.
- The weather is too hot and humid: The sweltering heat may make it uncomfortable to provide kangaroo care. You can use the fan/cooler but do not expose the baby directly to the fan or cooler. You can use a muslin blanket as a light cover for your baby.
- The weather is too cold: If the weather is too cold and you are concerned about your baby catching cold, dress your baby in a sleeveless front open sweater/shirt. After placing your baby on your bare chest, gently slide off the sweater/shirt and cover your baby with blanket and your nightgown. The warmth from your body will help to keep your baby warm and cozy.
- There are interruptions during kangaroo care: Preferably finish all your chores before you settle down for kangaroo care. The baby may need to be changed in between kangaroo care; you can use a disposable diaper/absorbent cloth diaper to reduce movement and disruptions in the care.
- There is no help at home: As a mother of new-born, it is essential that you eat and rest well. Good communication and awareness about kangaroo care among family members is essential to effectively do it at home. Arrange for help from family, extended family, or get hired help to assist you during the early days and inform them about kangaroo care.
Kangaroo care is an easy and cost-effective method with a lot of advantages. These are general instructions for kangaroo care. Please talk to your healthcare professional for additional information and assistance if needed.
Hand Sketched Image Credit: Vedant Rajesh
Images have been inspired by-
Kangaroo Mother Care And Optimal Feeding of Low Birth Weight Infants Operational Guidelines Manual by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Government of India.
Kangaroo Mothercare a Practical Guide by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The author is a public health professional with expertise in child development, epidemiology, and behavioral science.