Why 'Kangaroo Care' Creates Special Bond Between Parent and Baby
Parents, NICU staff talk the benefits of skin-to-skin contact with newborn
For eight days after her son was born, all Whitney Coben could do was look at her fragile little boy.
Brayden was born premature at 27 weeks, weighed less than 3 pounds and couldn’t breathe on his own. Right after birth, he was immediately taken to Cook Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
It took eight days before Whitney could hold Brayden for the first time and another five days before his dad, David, held him.
Once Whitney was finally able to hold Brayden, the NICU staff recommended kangaroo, or skin-to-skin, care. Kangaroo care means holding your baby, who is wearing only a diaper, against your bare chest. The baby snuggles on your chest covered with a blanket, just like a kangaroo’s pouch.
“We were told the best thing we, as parents, could do was kangaroo care,” Whitney said. “Holding Brayden skin-to-skin proved to be beneficial. Even on his worst days if he was skin-to-skin with one of us he was calmer, his heart rate maintained better and he required less oxygen. Holding Brayden was the only bonding time we felt like we had. It's hard to bond through glass. It was beneficial for us too. It reduced our anxiety and helped us acclimate to taking care of Brayden.”
Brayden was at Cook Children’s for 160 days and only during 18 of those days was he off the ventilator. Brayden returned home with a tracheostomy and on a home ventilator. Even with these complications, Whitney said she was prepared to care for her son on her own, without the NICU staff, because of her experience with kangaroo care.
“We were so comfortable holding him because we had spent eight hours a day ‘kangerooing’ in the NICU,” she said.
The NICU staff at Cook Children’s encourages skin-to-skin care because of the strong benefits for mothers, fathers and babies, whether the baby was born without complication at term, those born prematurely or who are ill at or after birth.
Benefits for the baby:
- Keep baby’s body warm-more stable temperature.
- Keep baby’s heart and breathing regular.
- Better weight gain for baby.
- Baby spends more time in deep sleep which supports brain development.
- Baby spends more time being quiet when awake and less time crying.
- Baby has a better chance of being able to breastfeed.
Benefits for the parents:
- Mom makes more breast milk.
- Reduces parents stress.
- Feel closer to baby and learn their likes and dislikes.
- Builds parents confidence as baby’s mother or father becoming more in-tune to baby’s needs; bonding.
“As a therapist in the NICU, the most rewarding part of my work is re-uniting babies and parents through kangaroo care,” said Betsy O’Hara, an occupational therapist in Cook Children’s NICU. “It is so important that these babies and parents begin to form a strong bond that will support their relationships for a lifetime. A transformation happens as the baby responds to his/her parent and the parent finally ‘feels’ like the baby’s mom or dad. It’s magical!”
In the NICU environment at Cook Children’s, therapists emphasize that kangaroo care or “encircled holding” (wrapping your arms around your sick or premature baby even if he/she cannot be held) helps parents feel like a parent to their baby by offering this special care that only parents can provide.
Studies show kangaroo care helps babies who were born prematurely not only to support development while in the NICU, but also cognitive development especially related to behavior and self-control across the first 10 years of life.
Kangaroo Care has also been found to foster stronger maternal attachment in the post-partum period. Receiving Kangaroo care as a premature infant supports better sleep patterns and stress responses in the growing and developing child
Before kangaroo care, the conventional neonatal care model had the infant removed from the mother and let the nurses assume all care of the baby. Kangaroo care represents a shift in neonatal care to a family-centered care model that incorporates both parents into the care of their infant.
“Unlike breastfeeding, which is also so important to the care of the baby, kangaroo care allows for both mothers and fathers to be involved, “O’Hara said. “This care provided by the parents has lifelong benefits for both the baby and the parents. Mom or dad’s chest is the best place for the baby to grow while in the NICU setting and can continue once the family goes home.”