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Pregnancy

Kangaroo Care

Kangaroo Care is the act of placing a baby clad only in a diaper between the breasts of the mother or father and a towel on the baby's back. The baby is held upright on the chest. This is also called skin-to-skin care and can be started immediately after birth. Kangaroo Care can also be started immediately after birth and can be continued throughout infancy.

Benefits of Kangaroo Care

Kangaroo care has shown benefits in all infants, from the preterm to the post-term including:

Temperature Regulation

Temperature is a crucial factor in infants, as they are too young to adequately maintain their own temperature. The parent's chest acts as a personal space heater for the infant. The mother's chest can adjust temperatures at amazing speeds to accommodate the infant. The mother's breast has the ability to get warmer or cooler depending on the current temperature of the infant. If her body determines that the baby is too cold, the breasts can warm. The breasts warm but never exceed the ideal temperature for the baby.

This also works with more than one baby at a time. Women can have one infant on each breast, and each breast can be a different temperature depending on each baby's individual need. Men should also be encouraged to provide Kangaroo Care for the reasons listed below, although they do not have the ability to regulate the baby's temperature.

Breathing Regulation

The parent's familiar breathing pattern and heart rate stimulate the baby to have similar breathing patterns and heart rates. This leads to decreased apnea and oxygen requirements, decreased bradycardia, and a regular heart rate.

Weight Gain in the Infant

Quicker weight gain is another benefit of Kangaroo Care, which may lead to shorter hospital stays for premature infants.

Stronger Attachment

Intimacy and attachment between parent and infant are fostered in Kangaroo Care. The baby is in a position where she can spend lots of time in eye contact with the parent providing the care.

Greater Breastfeeding Opportunities

The positioning of Kangaroo Care also facilitates breastfeeding, as the proximity of the breasts trigger the babies' biologic feeding mechanisms and the baby may self-latch onto the breast and begin feeding.

Other benefits of Kangaroo Care that have been observed include:

How to Get Kangaroo Care

Kangaroo Care is a relatively recent discovery in the field of medicine. Many institutions have not instituted a Kangaroo Care policy, but are aware of the idea and concept of Kangaroo Care. You should talk to your main healthcare provider about Kangaroo Care if you want to use it as a part of your routine.

Some advocates of Kangaroo Care can be doulas or midwives. Both are responsible for being up-to-date with new information that can be passed on to patients, and are a valuable source of information for any woman interested in Kangaroo Care.

The Role of Doulas in Kangaroo Care

In the United States, hospital rules and physicians' and midwives' labor and delivery practices vary greatly. It is the doula's responsibility to support the mother and her partner during labor and delivery, and to cooperate with the established practices of the hospital.

As a result of observations and study of the positive immediate and long-term benefits of early mother/infant skin to skin contact, an increasing number of hospitals and birthing facilities' midwives and physicians now provide an opportunity for the baby to crawl and self-attach to the mother's breast. The doula can help the parents communicate their desire for kangaroo care to their healthcare provider.

With early skin to skin contact, the doula has added responsibilities to be supportive. During the labor she will explain to the mother and her partner what will probably happen and how the baby will behave. The doula will assist the hospital staff with the safe and warm placement of the baby on the mother. When the mother needs attention for her own needs, either the nurse or the doula will wrap and transfer the baby to the father. The doula will provide encouragement and suggestions to the mother and her partner.

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Last Reviewed: Sep 12, 2007

John H Kennell, MD John H Kennell, MD
Formerly, Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University