You’ve likely heard of skin-to-skin contact between parents and newborn babies, but have you heard it described as kangaroo care?
The practice involves placing a baby directly on a parent’s bare chest. Kangaroo care offers medical benefits to all newborns but is extremely encouraged for premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
“Babies and parents can actually both benefit from kangaroo care,” explains Dr. Preetha Prazad, a neonatologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital – Park Ridge. “Skin-to-skin contact during kangaroo care triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin, which minimizes post-partum stress and anxiety in a new mother, and it can also lower levels of cortisol, the ‘stress hormone.’”
Dr. Prazad points to several other benefits of kangaroo care:
- Babies’ body temperatures stabilize more effectively with regular kangaroo care. Their vital signs also improve, including heart rate and breathing rate.
- Babies typically have improved weight gain and sleep.
- Significant lowering of behavioral pain responses and improved neurodevelopment have been reported in several studies.
- Babies are comforted and calmed by the familiar sound of the child bearer’s heartbeat during skin-to-skin contact. The practice helps to promote bonding between parent and baby.
- Skin-to-skin contact can help increase a child bearer’s milk supply and promotes exclusive breastfeeding.
“Kangaroo care is a wonderful way for new families to bond and to help premature babies grow and gain weight during their time in the NICU,” she says. “I recommend all families participate if it is medically safe for their baby.”