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Kangaroo Care: How skin-to-skin contact benefits babies and parents

Leading health organizations across the globe agree that kangaroo care — holding your unclothed baby skin-to-skin against your body — is good for both parents and babies, especially preemies. The practice is recommended by the World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, and the Neonatal Resuscitation Program. Whether you’re still at the hospital or have recently arrived home, the benefits of kangaroo care are both physical and emotional.

Medical benefits. Researchers have found that mothers and babies both enjoy a number of medical benefits from kangaroo care. Newborns tend to have more stable breathing, body temperature, and blood sugar levels and a steadier heartbeat. They’re better able to absorb and digest nutrients, which leads to more consistent weight gain. They even cry less often.

Moms often have better breast milk production and tend to have a more positive breastfeeding experience. Many “kangaroo babies” are successful at breastfeeding immediately after birth. Mothers also are likely to have less postpartum bleeding and a lower risk of postpartum depression.

Emotional benefits. Kangaroo care increases mothers’ oxytocin levels, which reduces stress and lowers blood pressure. Dr. Alexis Cirilli-Whaley of Marshfield Clinic – Dickinson says, “Skin-to-skin contact allows parents to immediately begin bonding with their baby and to learn to identify signs of hunger, discomfort, or pain. This gives babies a sense of security and gives new parents more confidence.”

How to provide kangaroo care. Plan to have at least one hour of quiet time, Dr. Cirilli-Whaley advises. “Avoid talking or playing on your phone or watching TV—this is bonding time for you and your baby.” You can, however, sing or read a book. Wear a shirt or hospital gown that opens in the front. Your baby should be unclothed or wear only a diaper. Place your baby upright against your chest and cover both of you with a light blanket if the room is chilly.

Immediately after birth. Parents can plan ahead and talk to the hospital about their wishes for skin-to-skin contact right after birth. A number of medical experts even advise kangaroo care for premature babies right after a c-section. Medical professionals can help you position your baby safely on your body. When possible, moms and babies can stay in direct contact for one to two hours after birth. If the mother isn’t able, her partner can step in.

Arriving home. Once you take your baby home, Dr. Cirilli-Whaley suggests that you continue to look for opportunities for kangaroo care. “Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding, this is a perfect time for skin-to-skin bonding. You can also snuggle this way first thing in the morning, before bedtime, and right after a bath.”

The benefits of skin-to-skin bonding during infancy may last for years—even decades. A 2017 study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that kangaroo care had “significant, long-lasting social and behavioral protective effects 20 years after the intervention.”

We now offer same-day and next-day appointments for our pediatric patients! The Children’s Care department at MCHS – Dickinson has the largest, most knowledgeable pediatrics team in the region. To prepare for your baby’s arrival, or for answers to your parenting questions, both big and small, call us at 906-776-5800.

Alexis Cirilli-Whaley, MD ABSM, FAAP is a member of the U.P.’s largest pediatrics team at MCHS – Dickinson. She attended medical school at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and completed her residency at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. Dr. Cirilli-Whaley is board certified in Pediatrics – Sleep Medicine. She is at the Dickinson Primary Care Clinic at 1711 S Stephenson Ave. in Iron Mountain.