Stepping into the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) is an experience that comes with a whirlwind of emotions and questions. I know this all too well from when my preemie twin girls entered the scene at just 27 weeks. The NICU nurses and doctors became our guiding lights, emphasizing the incredible importance of kangaroo care in the NICU – a term I had yet to understand fully.
Whether navigating the NICU’s ups and downs with a preemie or relishing the coziness of home with a full-term newborn, the magic of kangaroo care is a gift that transcends it all. Join me as we unwrap the profound benefits of kangaroo care, discovering why it’s essential for your baby’s development and a source of strength and connection for parents.
First, What is Kangaroo Care?
Kangaroo care is a method to hold and care for your baby skin-to-skin. Mothers and Dads can both do this. The benefits for each parent are different, which we will cover in just a minute.
Skin-to-skin is a proven way to treat small or premature infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) because it offers an opportunity to improve a baby’s health and save their life.
This type of care is an evidence-based practice to help babies in the NICU thrive and develop.
5 Essential Benefits of Kangaroo Care in the NICU
Even if you have a full-term newborn at home, kangaroo care benefits both preemies and infants in the following ways:
1. Improve Brain Development
The bond between a mom and her baby is so special!
Research shows that skin-to-skin contact in the first few months of life can play a key role in a baby’s development, influencing positive brain activity and reducing stress hormones.
2. Improve Breathing
When your babe is skin-to-skin with you, it helps their body self-regulate, which helps to stabilize their heart rate and breathing.
Did you know studies also show dads can pass on the same benefits as moms? Dads can help their newborns regulate their heart rate and breathing by doing skin-to-skin.
If you have a preemie in the NICU…
Many early preemies experience dips in their heart rate and oxygen levels (since their body is growing and developing), which is why kangaroo care in the NICU is so important to do.
Both my twin girls, Lily and Lua, experienced numerous episodes of dips in their heart rates and breathing.
This was definitely scary to witness. Unfortunately, it is a very ‘common’ preemie thing that happens while in the NICU.
When I did skin-to-skin with each of my girls, I noticed that their heart rates and breathing stabilized more often. Of course, the bigger they got, the less they experienced these scary episodes!
3. Improve Weight Gain
When you hold your sweet pea against your skin it helps your baby use their instincts and feeding reflexes to begin:
These cues may help accelerate premature infants or full-term newborns to gain weight by improving feeding effectiveness.
4. Increase Bonding Between Parent and Baby
This is an obvious one. 🙂
The more you hold your baby, the more that bonding experience increases between the both of you. It helps you relate to one another.
I felt a heightened connection the more I got to hold each twin girl in the NICU. When it was time for skin-to-skin, my girls knew it was coming because they were immediately calm as I picked them up to hold them.
So get your snuggles on!
5. Reduce Stress Levels
While your baby is against your skin stress-relieving hormones are released to help calm your baby.
Premature infant’s stress levels in the NICU may increase during:
- A diaper change
- Blood draws
- Oral care
- Temperature taken
- Tubing or IV inserted or taken out
These activities can stress a preemie out, so skin-to-skin is great afterward. When their care time was finished, I always did kangaroo care with my twin girls, Lily Mae and Lua.
7 Simple Steps On How To Do Kangaroo Care
To get your snuggles on the right way, follow these seven simple steps:
1. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down.
2. Drape a blanket over you and your baby, ensuring the baby’s head is upright above your heart in between your chest.
3. Keep your baby’s head to one side for easy breathing.
4. Place your baby’s tummy on the upper part of your abdomen while keeping their arms and legs folded.
5. Hold your baby close to your body and relax.
6. You can even breastfeed or feed your baby while doing kangaroo care if you wish.
7. Enjoy the bonding experience with your baby!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is kangaroo care in the NICU, and why is it important?
Kangaroo care in the NICU is where parents hold their premature or medically fragile baby against their bare chest, creating skin-to-skin contact. This physical closeness mimics the warmth and security of a kangaroo’s pouch, offering numerous benefits. It helps regulate the baby’s body temperature, heart rate, and breathing patterns. It also promotes weight gain, improves sleep patterns, and strengthens the bond between parents and their newborn, fostering a sense of security crucial for their development.
When can I start practicing kangaroo care for my preemie in the NICU?
Kangaroo care can often begin when your baby’s medical condition stabilizes. Some NICUs encourage it even for extremely premature infants, while others may recommend waiting until certain health milestones are reached. It’s crucial to consult the NICU staff and your baby’s healthcare team to determine the right time to start kangaroo care based on their needs and medical condition.
How long and how often should I practice kangaroo care?
The duration and frequency of kangaroo care sessions can vary depending on your baby’s condition and tolerance. Initially, sessions might be shorter (10-15 minutes) and gradually extend as your baby strengthens. Many parents aim for at least one session per day, but you can gradually increase this as your baby responds positively. Always follow the guidance of your baby’s healthcare team and listen to your baby’s cues for comfort and distress.
Can kangaroo care help with breastfeeding for preemies?
Absolutely. Kangaroo care can significantly enhance the success of breastfeeding for preemies. The skin-to-skin contact helps regulate the baby’s body temperature, which is crucial for maintaining energy levels needed for breastfeeding. It also triggers the release of oxytocin, the “bonding hormone,” which can aid milk production. The closeness and comfort of kangaroo care create an ideal environment for establishing a strong breastfeeding relationship.
Is kangaroo care only for preemies, or can it benefit full-term babies too?
Kangaroo care is beneficial for all babies, regardless of their gestational age. While it’s often associated with NICU preemies, full-term babies experience positive kangaroo care outcomes. It enhances their sense of security, regulates their physiological functions, reduces stress, and strengthens the parent-child bond. Whether in the NICU or at home, kangaroo care is a powerful tool for nurturing your baby’s overall development and well-being.
To Wrap It Up
The benefits of kangaroo care go hand in hand with both preemies and full-term newborns:
- Improve brain development
- Improve breathing
- Improve weight gain
- Increase bonding time between you and your babe
- Reduce stress levels
If you want to try kangaroo care with your sweet pea, talk to your NICU nurse, pediatrician, or lactation consultant to get started.
With a little practice, you’ll be a pro in no time!
Until the next post, I’m sending you all the positive parent vibes!
Do you have more tips to share about kangaroo care in the NICU? Let me know in the comments below!
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About The Author
Linds is the proud mom of two little miracles, Mono Mono twin girls, and one AMAZING older brother! She is the founder and content creator of Mono Mono Twins, Intensive Therapy for Kids, and Co-Founder of The LENN Foundation, a 510c3 that helps children with cerebral palsy receive grants for intensive therapies to thrive. ♥
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