A new baby can open a new chapter in your life — it changes just about everything. But you can make the transition easier for both you and your baby by snuggling up and taking the time for skin-to-skin contact several times a week.
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Sometimes called kangaroo care (because it simulates a mother kangaroo’s pouch), this practice offers many benefits for newborn babies, mothers and fathers alike. The concept is simple and easy – just hold your baby (naked, except for a diaper) against your bare chest and cover him or her up.
Midwife Shellie Hawk CNM, describes the benefits of skin-to-skin contact and offers step-by-step instructions to help you and your newborn get the most from this incredible bonding experience.
What are the the benefits of kangaroo care?
The idea of kangaroo care was developed in Columbia in the 1970s to help counter steep premature infant mortality rates. Now, many doctors and midwives recommend it for both premature and full-term babies.
“Birth is a big shock for babies,” says Hawk. “Practicing kangaroo care, especially just after your baby is born, helps ease the transition from the womb – a warm, comfortable, quiet place – to the considerably colder and louder outside world.”
It offers many benefits for newborns, including:
- Stability. Particularly for premature babies, practicing kangaroo care can help improve oxygen saturation levels (how much oxygen travels throughout the body), which helps stabilize heart and breathing rates.
- Improves baby’s sleep. Kangaroo care, which aims to mimic the womb, is a comforting experience for your baby. Most babies fall asleep within minutes of being placed on their mother or father’s chest because they hear the heartbeat the same way they did inside the womb.
- Enhances growth and weight gain. Skin-to-skin contact helps regulate your baby’s body temperature. The less energy your baby uses for temperature control, the more energy it can direct toward weight gain and growth activities.
- Better for breastfeeding. “When a baby is placed on her mom’s stomach, she actually crawls forward searching for mom’s breast,” Hawk says. So skin-to-skin contact helps you and your baby establish a quicker breastfeeding routine and also helps increase milk production.
Kangaroo care can help moms, dads and caregivers bond
Babies aren’t the only ones who benefit from kangaroo care. As with breastfeeding, kangaroo care can boost oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that can counter the estrogen and progesterone drop that occurs after you deliver.
Additionally, kangaroo care can improve bonding between you and your baby and boost your confidence as a caregiver. (All of these benefits work for dads, too!)
Tips for successful kangaroo care
Kangaroo care works best in a quiet environment without bright lights. Before you get started, turn the lights down and keep the environment as quiet as possible. Then, get ready to snuggle with your baby:
- Remove your shirt and bra and replace with a shirt that zips or buttons up the front (or a hospital gown that opens in the front).
- Place your baby (wearing only a diaper and hat) stomach down on your chest in an upright position.
- Cover your baby with a receiving blanket or your shirt.
- Hold your baby kangaroo-style for one hour, at least four times per week.
“No matter how you deliver, kangaroo care can create a serene, comfortable bonding experience that can help overcome even a difficult delivery experience,” says Hawk.
Want to kangaroo with your baby right after delivery? Be sure to let your provider know ahead of time and include it as part of your birth plan.