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Kangaroo Care, more accurately referred to as Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) essentially involves:
You can start with kangaroo mother care right after giving birth or a few hours, days or weeks later. It all depends on your unique situation.
Is it your preference? Is your baby premature or ill? These are some of the factors that will determine when you start with kangaroo mother care.
There are two types:
If your baby is still nursed in an incubator because of needing monitoring, or if you have been released from the hospital and can not stay with your baby 24/7, you can do intermittent kangaroo mother care.
Even if it's just a matter of preference on your side, it is fine. The important thing to remember is that you need do this for at least one full sleep cycle, to maximize the benefits.
It could either be because there aren't any incubators available for your baby, or it could be your preference. This is the optimal option. If your doctor gives you the go ahead, you and your baby will benefit most from continuous care, even more so, if your baby is premature.
Up to what age should KMC be done?
This is up to your baby and yourself. As your baby grows and thrives, you can follow his/her cues and then decrease the periods of time spent in the kangaroo position accordingly.
It will be a natural progression if you are in tune with your baby's needs, which is something you pick up when you spend so much time with your baby so close to you. And chances are, you will feel a bit disappointed once it's over.
The most amazing fact to me is that the mother's breast temperature can rise and fall to warm or cool her baby down as needed.
Your breasts will keep your baby at the ideal temperature for sleeping, breathing and using the least amount of energy necessary, so that your little one can instead focus on growing and thriving.
It has been proven, that a mother can better control her baby's temperature than a servo-controlled incubator!
Then there's the movement of the mother's chest from her breathing. This stimulates the baby to keep breathing and keeps their heart rate stable. In fancier medical terms, it prevents and/or decreases Apnea and Bradycardia. (Apnea ~ when baby stops breathing. Bradycardia ~ when baby's heart rate slows down)
This, in turn, keeps the baby's oxygen levels where they should be (Oxygen Saturation), and it also assists the baby to sleep for more extended periods. And we've all learned that children grow when they are sleeping. If your baby is premature, very small, has low muscle tone or didn't grow optimally in the womb, this is especially important for you.
And... medical interventions like drips, ventilation, monitors and so on, do not affect kangaroo care. The baby can still have all those "gadgets" attached while lying on your chest. Many have found that these things are not as needed when KMC is practiced. So all the more reason to take advantage of kangaroo mother care.
If your baby needs to be transported to another hospital or clinic, you can use kangaroo care as a safe and effective means to keep your baby stable. And if you can not do it yourself, ambulance staff can keep your baby in the kangaroo position.
Marsupials like kangaroos carry their babies in their pouches, giving them full access to their source of nourishment. The word "Mother" was added into the term to emphasize the importance of the mother and her breast milk.
Exclusively breastfeeding your baby on demand is the ideal. Whether your baby breastfeeds directly from your breast or gets your breastmilk via a nasogastric tube (the little tube that goes through the nose into the tummy), a cup or other method is not the point. The point is that your baby should get YOUR milk, that is specifically designed for YOUR baby, at that stage.
Interesting tidbit: Your breast milk composition will be different if your baby is premature than if they are full term.
Skin to skin contact helps to establish breastfeeding, so don't feel discouraged if your baby can't suck on your breast right away. The fact that they are close to their source of nourishment and are stimulated by the smell of your milk and skin will help towards breastfeeding successfully, eventually.
In 1978 Dr. Edgar Rey Sanabria in Bogota, Colombia, began the practice of Kangaroo Care out of necessity. There weren’t enough resources and incubators to care for all the premature babies in the hospital and this made the death rate very high. Since then though, studies have been done on this practice, and they found a decrease in the number of babies that are dying, with the introduction of KMC. Not only were more babies surviving, but they were even thriving!
It has turned out to be more than just an alternative to incubator care.
Just because your baby was born too soon, doesn't mean that you can't continue the gestation period.
KMC provides the perfect opportunity for you to help your baby grow, in an environment similar to the womb, until they are full term. Think of it as a womb with a view. ;-)
Many mothers of premature babies and low birth weight babies end up feeling anxious because they have to watch the medical staff care for their babies and don't get to do much for their babies themselves. It is stressful and exhausting. But with kangaroo mother care, the mother does most of the caring. This builds her self-confidence and reduces anxiety. It empowers her to step into the role she looked forward to during her pregnancy. She can be a mother in the full sense, without having to wait until her baby is 'strong' or 'big' enough.
Not only that, research shows over and over again that babies who receive KMC thrive far better than those who are given traditional medical incubator care. The smaller the baby, the more vital kangaroo care becomes.
When your baby is placed on your skin, they become colonized with your bacteria. This causes your body to produce antibodies in response; they are specifically protective against harmful bacteria.
Now, when your baby is placed in an incubator, he/she become colonized with hospital bacteria, which might infect the baby. We've all heard how hospital bacteria tend to become resistant to many antibiotics... It's not good.
This is especially not good in poor countries where resources and access to antibiotics are very limited. And where incubators are not always in optimal working condition, or adequately cleaned or have reliable power supplies. That is if they even have money for an incubator.
Kangaroo care can overcome all these obstacles, by providing babies with the perfect immunity and nutrition, the perfect temperature regulation and safety.
Some hospitals/clinics have special wards where mothers and babies can practice kangaroo mother care all the time, while the nursing staff supervises them.
This allows mothers to take on the responsibility of caring for their own babies and it lightens the load on the nursing personnel. Everybody wins!
Another benefit of KMC wards is that mothers get to support and encourage each other. They are going through similar experiences and being able to talk to someone who's actually been there and done that, is invaluable.
Any shirt or dress that opens up in front will do for the mother. There are a few items of clothing, specially designed for this purpose, which you may wish to purchase.
This goes beyond just having emotional support. It involves physical and educational support as well.
Once your baby is healthy, gaining weight (at least 20g per day), is able to breast or cup feed well and you are confident to manage your baby on your own, you can finally go home.
Usually, you will leave the hospital with your baby in the kangaroo position and continue the practice at home for as long as you and your baby desire.
For premature and low birth weight babies, this very well may mean that you are able to join your family sooner than with traditional medical care.
Be sure to have regular follow up visits with your health care professional to make sure that your baby is gaining weight, growing and thriving as expected.
Also, dads who spend time skin to skin with their babies are less likely to abuse their children or become violent towards them. This is what studies are showing.
It's a great way to bond with your baby!
Kangaroo Mother Care Benefits for Baby
Kangaroo Care Benefits for Parents
Kangaroo Care Benefits Related to Breastfeeding
Other Kangaroo Care Benefits
Dr. Susan Ludington sums up Kangaroo Mother Care in saying:
"Separation is not biologically normal."