African women are known for strapping their babies to their backs. But that does not give as much benefits as the Kangaroo care, a skin-to-skin care practised on newborn, usually premature, whereby the infant is held skin-to-skin with an adult.
Kangaroo care, named for the similarity to how certain animals carry their young, was initially developed to care for premature infants in areas where incubators are either unavailable or unreliable. Not any more. Now, even full term babies can also benefit from the comfort and heat regulations that Kangaroo care provides.
Susan Ludington, doctor and an advocate of Kangaroo care in the United States, says: “Kangaroo care is the practice of holding your diapered baby on your bare chest if you are the father or between your breasts if you are the mother, with a blanket draped over your baby’s back.” During the process, the baby’s body temperature begins to depend on the mother, requiring the baby to use fewer calories to stay warm. The infant typically snuggles into the breast and is deeply asleep within just a few minutes. “These babies gain weight faster than their non-kangarooed counterparts, and it is interesting to note that they usually do not lose any of their birth weight,” Ludington added.
Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, in a research found that 90 per cent of the babies who underwent this care revived normal body temperature in four hours as compared to 60 per cent babies kept in incubators. The researchers further added that Kangaroo care for premature infants may be restricted to a few hours per day, but if they are medically stable that time may be extended. “This technique does not carry a risk of overheating as well as the excess heat is passed to the mother. Such an approach is also advised for older babies to calm them down as well as enhance their development,” researchers confirmed.
Fortunately, the Kangaroo care benefits both the mother and child. The benefits to the baby include a stable heart rate, more regular breathing that is a 75 per cent decrease in apneic episodes, improved oxygen saturation levels, no cold stress, longer periods of sleep, more rapid weight gain, more rapid brain development, reduction of purposeless activity, decreased crying, longer periods of alertness, more successful breastfeeding episodes, and earlier hospital discharge.
Kangaroo care has emotional benefits for the parent too. It builds the mother’s confidence as she provides intimate care that can improve the baby’s health and well-being. In Kangaroo care, the baby wears only a diaper and is placed in a flexed, fetal position with maximal skin-to-skin contact on the parent’s chest. If it is cold, the parent may wear a shirt or hospital gown with an opening to the front and a blanket over the wrap for the baby.
Kangaroo care is different from the practice of baby wearing. In baby wearing the adult and the child are fully clothed, the child may be in the front or back of the adult. It can be done with many different types of carriers and slings, and it is commonly practised with infants and toddlers.