What and Why?
Kangaroo care is the practice of a diaper-clad infant being skin-to-skin on the bare chest of a parent or caregiver. Born out of necessity in circumstances where the mother was the best source of warmth and safety for her fragile infant, Kangaroo care is now known to have far-reaching benefits for infants and parents in the NICU and beyond discharge. Physiological benefits such as cardio-respiratory stability, temperature regulation, decreased pain response, reduced cortisol levels, and better weight gain are just a few of the associated benefits of Kangaroo Care.
Research has also demonstrated associated long-term benefits such as increased breastfeeding rates and improved neurodevelopmental outcomes. Perhaps most importantly, Kangaroo care helps parents be integral to their baby's care in an environment where the parent's role can be hard to define, leading to improved bonding, attachment, and confidence.
With the support of well-trained staff, NICU teams can and should offer Kangaroo care as a standard of care to even the smallest and most fragile infants.
What other kinds of touch are helpful?
If a baby is not having the kind of day that allows for kangaroo care, or if parent or caregiver time is limited, other types of touch are helpful for both parents and baby.
Hand-hugging is when parents or caregivers clean their hands, place one hand on a baby’s head and cup the other around the baby’s bottom. Modified kangaroo care or encircled holding is when the parent leans over the baby and circles the baby with arms and hands (the baby remains on a radiant warmer or in an open incubator). These types of touch are appropriate for very new or fragile babies who may not be ready to be transferred to a parent’s chest.
With hand-hugging, modified kangaroo care or encircled holding, parents report some of the same positive effects as kangaroo care, especially with respect to milk production. Teaching parents alternate ways to achieve physical closeness with their baby is one way the NICU team can support parents of babies who may be too fragile for kangaroo care.
How to transfer?
This video from the Saint Boniface Hospital NICU in Winnipeg demonstrates two techniques to safely transfer premature babies from a warmer or incubator to a parent's chest.