Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) is incredibly important for all babies, especially preterm babies. It is easy to do – a mother simply holds her baby with his stomach down (prone position) against the front-side of her chest between her breasts, neither with clothes between them. The baby can be placed inside the mother’s clothes, or a blanket can be placed on the outside of the baby. The baby may be wearing a diaper and/or a hat. KMC should begin as soon as possible following birth and for increasing amounts of time as the baby matures. (It is possible to hold an intubated baby in KMC.) The results are amazing!
KMC was originally discovered in Colombia, South America and in the 1980s when, because of overcrowding in the incubators, some mothers were encouraged to hold their babies in continuous skin-to-skin contact. They found this was a great way for mothers to be involved in the care of their preterm babies, with less likelihood of acquiring certain illnesses, and the ability for the baby to learn to breastfeed at his own pace. Research has now shown that babies cared for in this environment (vs. the standard incubator care) have more regular breathing patterns and body temperatures, are less susceptible to infections, have better weight gain, sleep more soundly, breastfeed earlier and for a longer duration, have a lower risk of death, and are discharged from the hospital sooner.1
KMC allows babies to learn how to breastfeed at their pace. They are able to smell their mother’s milk and practice sucking throughout the day. It allows a mother’s supply to be more stable and research has shown the duration of breastfeeding is prolonged.2 More babies are discharged from the hospital exclusively nursing, and babies are typically able to nurse at the breast earlier than their counterparts in the incubator.
Breastfeeding involves a complex range of reflexes and responses including the gag reflex, rooting reflex, and coordinating suck-swallow-breathe patterns at the same time. This last reflex, being able to suck-swallow-breathe at the same time, typically develops between 32-35 weeks. However, babies in KMC demonstrate the ability to accomplish these milestones even earlier – some as early as 28-30 weeks!3
Not only are there tremendous growth and development benefits for babies nurtured in KMC, but the cost savings are significant. Hospitals seeking to receive the BFHI status (Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative) are progressively looking to implement ways to help moms nurture their preterm babies in KMC. Some have recliners next to each incubator and/or an adjoining room to the NICU with maternal beds for moms who have been discharged to sleep and still be able to closely care and nurture their babies. Whether or not your hospital has these things, you can still care for your baby in KMC. Any amount of time each day you are able to spend skin-to-skin with your baby will make a significant impact.
KMC can, and should, continue after hospital discharge. In fact, early discharge is many times possible with close follow-up for mothers caring for their baby in this way. KMC should continue until baby has reached 2 kg. (Although skin-to-skin contact is always beneficial, even for full-term babies are a few months old!)
Though no mom plans to have a preterm baby, if you find yourself in this position, there is so much you can actively do to help and nurture this tiny new life. And as your baby grows and developments through the milestones you will feel proud and confident in caring for your baby and know you are nurturing him in the best possible way in the beginning of life.
- Anderson GC. (1991) Current knowledge about skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care for preterm infants. Journal of Perinatology. 11(3):216-26 ↩
- Kirsten GF, Bergman NJ, Hann FM. (2001) Kangaroo mother care in the nursery Pediatric Clinics of North America 48(2):443-52 ↩
- Barlow SM. (2009) Oral and respiratory control for preterm feeding. Current Opinion in Otolaryngology & Head and Neck Surgery. 17(3):179-86 ↩