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What is Kangaroo Care?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Kangaroo care is a method of medical treatment used on premature infants or babies with early problems. The technique involves resting the baby on the chest of its mother or another care giver, allowing the rhythm of the adult’s breathing to stabilize that of the baby. Several studies have shown kangaroo care to improve the breastfeeding ability of the baby, help maintain proper breathing and sleeping and have far reaching beneficial effects on the weight gain and even development skills.

Often, after a baby is born, it is whisked away to be cleaned up, weighed, measured and tested. With premature babies or those born with medical problems, the separation from the mother can be even more extensive as the infants may need testing or even immediate surgery. Some research suggests that this separation period can cause psychological and physical stress to the baby, and should be avoided. Keeping the baby in close contact with the mother allows it to adapt to the new environment while still hearing the heartbeat and body rhythms it is used to from the womb.

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An estimated 80% of American hospitals encourage kangaroo care for premature infants. If the baby has no serious medical conditions that need to be attended to, it will be placed in skin-to-skin contact with the mother within minutes of birth. Typically, the baby will be clad only in a diaper, as the more skin that can be in contact with the mother, the more effective the treatment. Kangaroo techniques can last for several hours, often using a sling to keep the baby tightly in place. Although another caregiver can be used for the treatment, kangaroo techniques can be beneficial to the mother as well as the baby.

Many studies have been done on the possible benefits to the mother of skin-to-skin treatments. Some tests have shown that the process can increase milk production in the mother, and her body will adapt to provide the correct temperature for the baby. On a psychological level, some studies have suggested that the care creates a stronger mother-infant bond, and may even quell anxiety or fear for both the mother and child.

For mothers who wish to breastfeed their baby, kangaroo care can be an essential part of the strategy. Multiple studies have shown that not only does milk production increase after prolonged skin contact, but the produced milk may actually change to give better nutrition to the baby. A high percentage of kangaroo treated babies are able to nurse successfully and for longer periods of time. As low birth weight and lagging weight gain can be a serious problem for premature babies, increasing the amount of milk they ingest can be enormously beneficial.

If you are creating a birth plan for yourself or a partner, be sure to speak to the doctor you plan to have deliver the baby about kangaroo procedures. Letting your doctor know ahead of time that you would definitely like to be given the baby right after birth can help prevent any miscommunication during labor. Kangaroo care may not be possible in all situations, particularly if the mother or child undergoes any complications during the birth. Although it is considered by experts to be best to begin skin to skin contact as soon as the baby is born, kangaroo techniques can be employed at any time during infancy and may provide a closer bond and peace of mind for both mother and child.

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