Kangaroo Care: Intensive Care by Mom

Kangaroo Care

Have you heard about Kangaroo care for low birthweight babies? It turns out that with all the technology we have to care for low birthweight and premature infants, there is no substitute for a mothers embrace.

Kangaroo mother care (KMC) is skin-to-skin contact between mothers and their newborn babies. It usually includes early and continuous skin-to-skin contact, exclusive breast feeding, and early discharge from the hospital.

A 2015 review of 124 studies in which low birthweight babies received KMC was published in the journal Pediatrics. The review was done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Are you ready? The review found that for babies born weighing less than 4.4 pounds, KMC resulted in:

  • 36 percent reduction in baby deaths
  • 47 percent lower risk of infection
  • 50 percent increase in exclusive breastfeeding

Studies also found that KMC increased oxygen, increase head circumference growth, helped babies stay warm, decreased pain, and reduced readmissions to the hospital.

What Is Low Birthweight?
Low birthweight is a baby born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces. Most low birthweight babies are also born premature, before 37 weeks. About 8 percent of babies in the United States are born low birthweight. These babies have trouble getting enough oxygen, staying warm, feeding, and fighting off infections.

The usual treatment for low birthweight infants in the United States is admission to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and isolation behind the plastic walls of an isolette or incubator, where the baby can be protected from germs and kept warm. Some babies may need oxygen and tube feedings. They may be handled by many caregivers and parents may need to be separated from their babies for long periods of time.

Moms Instead of Incubators
KMC started in Bogota, Colombia back in 1978 as an alternative to incubators. It has become common in underdeveloped countries where incubators and NICUs are rarely available. But American hospitals are beginning to catch on. At Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Kangaroo care is offered in their NICU. They find that KMC helps the babies grow and sleep better. Moms produce more breast milk and babies leave their isolettes sooner. They even give skin-to-skin times to dads.

The best way to prevent having a low birthweight baby is to get good prenatal care. But low birthweight and prematurity are still fairly common, so you should ask your OB care provider about KMC where you will be delivering.

KMC is good for full term babies too. The Harvard review found that full term babies had better oxygen levels and better temperature regulation. What better or safer place for your baby to be than on your chest, skin-to-skin, as close as you can be? The research is in and it is impressive. Moms are the best incubators for their babies, just the way Mother Nature intended.

Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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