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Lots of benefits to Kangaroo Care, especially for preemies

Reading, Pa., February 12, 2016 – The simple act of a mother holding her newborn baby against her bare chest produces remarkably positive outcomes.

Skin-to-skin contact, also known as kangaroo care, warms the infant and relaxes both mother and child. Vital signs stabilize and, typically, deep sleep comes. Babies who experience kangaroo care cry less than those who don’t, and experience increased weight gain.

The contact also promotes milk production, making it easier for the baby to breastfeed.

While nearly all mothers – and fathers – can engage in skin-to-skin contact with their babies, it is particularly important for babies born prematurely and housed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

“When babies are in the NICU the moms typically can’t do too much for them,” explained Karen Sponagle, manager of the Family Birth Center at Penn State Health St. Joseph. “But when they do kangaroo care, it makes such as difference. It’s good for both moms and babies.”

Developed in South America as a means of keeping premature infants warm, kangaroo care has become mainstream in many NICUs and birthing centers across the United States. Its benefits have been widely recognized and clinically supported.

The simple procedure involves nestling a diaper-clad baby between her mother’s breasts or against a father’s bare chest. A cloth is placed over the baby’s back for warmth, and the parent and child merely sit or lie together.

At St. Joseph, it is expected that all medically able infants will be placed skin to skin with their mothers immediately following birth, and permitted to remain there, uninterrupted, for at least one hour.

The use of kangaroo care is considered so important that tasks such as weighing a baby and administering eye drops and a Vitamin K shot are being put on hold so that a mother can immediately hold her baby.

That, Sponagle said, has been a little difficult for some nurses to accept.

“Nurses tend to be so focused on tasks that it’s sometimes hard for them to delay them,” she said. “But, our goal is to get that mom and baby skin to skin as soon as possible.” Christine Oram, a staff nurse in St. Joseph’s NICU, is a certified kangaroo care specialist, and has observed the positive effects of skin-to-skin contact many times.

“It’s amazing to see,” Oram said. “In just about five minutes their (the babies) heart rates have slowed. Their breathing has slowed, and they need less oxygen. And then they sleep, and they can begin to heal.”

While it used to be thought that babies in the NICU slept best in isolettes, sleep studies have showed that more sound sleep occurs while being held against a parent’s bare chest.

Kangaroo care is even promoted for babies born by cesarean delivery, and can occur when a baby is on a ventilator.

“It’s a powerful therapy for both babies and parents,” Oram said.

Promoting kangaroo care is part of St. Joseph’s larger mission of becoming a Baby-Friendly facility, as specified by the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

That effort began in 2013, with the goal of achieving optimal mother/baby bonding, increasing the rate of breastfeeding and ultimately improving the health of mothers and babies.

“Skin to skin is a piece of the larger picture,” explained Sponagle. “There are lots of things we’re doing to promote family-centered care and assure that we provide the best care possible for all family members.”

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