Benefits for Baby?
Rebecca Holt and her one-year-old son Zachariah, born seven weeks early, experienced these benefits of kangaroo care. Once Zachariah was stable enough for Holt to hold, his vitals improved almost immediately. "As soon as we were able to begin the kangaroo care, he began to gain weight easier and learned to eat faster, and his general improvement toward gaining additional health increased," says Holt. "He became much more observant to his surroundings as well and instantly fell in love with being held and cuddled ... he would wiggle and squirm toward me as soon as he heard my voice in the NICU."
The medical, physical, and emotional improvements to a baby and his or her parents through the practice of kangaroo care are plentiful. "Kangaroo care is a wonderful activity that strengthens the bond that parents have with their child. The parents cannot express how grateful they feel that they can participate in giving something to their children. It is a win for the child, the parents, and the caregivers who can develop a working relationship with the parents," says Dr. Henricks-Muñoz.
"Having the opportunity to learn and practice the kangaroo care increased the bond between both Zachariah and me," says Holt. "Knowing I was doing something to improve his health and chances of early release from the NICU lifted my mood, as the NICU is not a low-stress place or even a place any parent wants to be for a long period of time."
Kangaroo care may also assist a premature baby by letting him spend more time being quiet and alert, with less time spent crying. This calming, positive touch "decreases stress and even is known to relieve the perception of pain in the infant. For the parent whose child is in the NICU, it is a way of providing a type of care that the medical staff cannot do, so the parents have a role in the medical care of the child. This is a very powerful feeling for a parent to be able to also provide care for such a vulnerable child," says Dr. Henricks-Muñoz.
Benefits for Mom?
Dottie White, mom to five-year-old daughter Caitlyn, born 13 weeks prematurely, agrees. "It made me feel like I was more of a part of her care. Before that, I felt like an outsider that had to ask to touch her own baby or talk to her. Once we started doing the kangaroo care, I felt a lot more confident in helping change diapers and other such parts of her care," says White.
Mothers may also notice significant changes in their own bodies through initiating kangaroo care with their babies. "Kangaroo care may help promote further milk production in the mother who plans on breastfeeding," explains Dr. Jaile-Marti.
Lillian Walcott, BSN, RNC, IBCLC, clinical nurse manager of Neonatal Intensive Care Nursery at Flushing Hospital Medical Center in New York, observes that "Kangaroo care enhances the bonding process of Mother and Baby through shared touch and warmth. It activates the maternal processes mothers seek in finding meaning in motherhood, especially with a pre-term infant."
Recent research has also confirmed that a mother's body temperature will adjust to accommodate her baby's temperature during the practice. "It is amazing to see the infants peek through the blankets into their mother's face. When they are placed between their mother's chest, they wiggle about to find a comfortable position and turn their heads at the sound of her voice," says Walcott.
A question may arise—when is it considered safe for parents to begin practicing kangaroo care? Because many parents cannot initiate kangaroo care on their own, most specialists will agree that parents should always ask the NICU staff about the hospital's policy on kangaroo care. Care can usually be initiated when the NICU staff feels that the infant is stable enough to come out of the warmer or isolette to be held by the parent. "Many hospitals allow the procedure when the infant is breathing on his/her own, but others provide kangaroo care when a child is still intubated on a ventilator. It is a decision that rests with the medical staff," explains Dr. Henricks-Muñoz.