Over 40 years of research has proven that in the early months of life, skin-to-skin contact, also referred to as Kangaroo Care, creates remarkable benefits for you and your baby.
When we are pregnant we long to have our little one in our arms, close to our heart. It is our natural instinct but we often read and hear opinions and tales that make us wonder how beneficial is it to hold the baby as much as we would like to do it.
“You will spoil the baby,” “the baby will start manipulating you into being held all the time,” “the baby needs to learn independence as soon as possible,” are some of the ‘reasons’ that have been passed generation to generation but that are not supported by evidence. On the contrary, nothing can soothe, calm, or nurture a newborn baby like the touch of the mother, and organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents to hold their newborn in kangaroo care for as long as possible, as uninterrupted as possible, and as frequent as possible.
Let’s talk about some basics:
Kangaroo care is beneficial for every newborn, whether preemie, full term, healthy or with medical complications. It is a method of holding the baby that involves the parent with the bare chest holding the newborn infant that is wearing only a diaper no higher than the belly button, and a hat and socks if it is too cold. Baby and parent must be chest-to-chest in skin-to-skin contact.The proper Kangaroo Position is when the baby is positioned vertically between the breasts of the mother, with the spine and head in midline, arms up and to the sides, legs flexed to the side, and feet pointing outwards. When the parent lowers the head, the lips should easily touch the top of the baby’s head. If there is any fabric or material between the skin of the parent and the skin of the baby (other than the diaper) then it is called baby wearing, not kangaroo care.
The parent should never kangaroo the baby while being horizontal–rather sitting, standing, or reclined to avoid rolling over. The baby should be secured in place with a device that ensures skin-to-skin contact to avoid accidental falls. This device should also protect the baby from accidental falls, and provide proper containment and easy/quiet access with minimal disruption. I designed the Kangaroo Zak following ergonomic principles and best practices to ensure the proper posture of the baby, a soothing containment, and the ability to use it from the time the baby is born whether prematurely or full term.
Studies have shown that this technique is not only beneficial for the baby but it also helps the parents a great deal.
“Skin-to-skin contact is a multi-sensory experience. Holding baby on your skin increases the development of essential neural pathways, which accelerates brain maturation. In addition, research shows that kangaroo’ed babies spend more time in quiet sleep, which enhances organizational patterns in the brain and decreases baby’s stress responses.”
Here are 10 of the multiple benefits of nurturing your baby skin-to-skin.
- Phychological wellbeing: The increased levels of maternal oxytocin, also called the love hormone that creates a “relaxation and well-being” response, aids in mom responding with nurturing and affectionate behaviors toward her baby. Mom is more sensitive and aware of her baby’s needs and feels more confident about her parenting skills. With Kangaroo Care, the emotional connection between the baby and the parent happens naturally.
- Milk production: Studies have shown that moms who practice Kangaroo Care from the start are more likely to continue exclusive breastfeeding when they bring baby home. The surge in maternal oxytocin and prolactin levels in the early hours after birth appear to have long-term effects in increased milk production. Moms who experience breastfeeding difficulties are likely to see near-immediate improvements by practicing Kangaroo Care for at least 60 minutes per session, 1-2 times a day.
- Breastfeeding behavior: Studies have shown that newborns held Skin-to-Skin immediately after birth are twice as likely to breastfeed within the first hour than swaddled newborns. Sixty minutes of skin-to-skin increases feeding frequency and raises prolactin levels in mom, a hormone critical for maintaining an adequate milk supply.
- Reduces crying/stress: The direct connection with your skin during Kangaroo Care soothes baby so much that babies’ cortisol levels (stress hormone) are measurably lowered after only 20 minutes of being held skin-to-skin. And, remarkably, their pain is reduced when held Skin-to-Skin. As a result, babies who experience regular Kangaroo Care often cry less and appear less agitated even when not in kangaroo care.
- Brain development: Skin-to-skin contact is a multi-sensory experience. Holding baby on your skin increases the development of essential neural pathways, which accelerates brain maturation. In addition, research shows that kangaroo’ed babies spend more time in quiet sleep, which enhances organizational patterns in the brain and decreases baby’s stress responses.
- Immune system: Baby’s immune system is stimulated when placed skin-to-skin. Mom’s mature immune system passes antibodies through her skin and breast milk to baby. Being on mom’s skin also increases baby’s skin hydration, which provides a protective barrier from harmful bacteria entering baby’s skin.
- Quality of sleep: Development of mature brain function in infants depends on the quality of their sleep cycling. During Kangaroo Care, most infants fall asleep easily, and achieve what is called “Quiet Sleep”, a natural deep sleep for 60 minutes or more. This is important, because research points to Quiet Sleep as one of the most beneficial for accelerating brain patterning and maturation.
- Body temperature: Maintaining body temperature is essential for young infants who do not yet have the skills to keep themselves warm. Nature takes care of that through a process known as thermoregulation. Within minutes of being held Skin-to-Skin, the mother’s breasts automatically adjust to cool baby down or warm him up, in response to what baby needs. And if you have twins, mom’s breasts can act independently to take care of multiple babies at once. Dads are not able to regulate the temperature of the baby, so be extra careful to make sure the baby is not too cold or too hot.
- Recovery time: Increased levels of maternal oxytocin are released while mom is holding baby in Kangaroo Care. The positive stimulation received by being held on the chest of the parent helps regulate blood pressure, breathing, temperature, lower cortisol levels (stress hormone), and increase pain tolerance so babies cry less and sleep more.
- Postpartum depression: Kangaroo Care increases the levels of maternal oxytocin, which serves to restore mom’s pre-pregnancy hormonal levels and reduce the risk of postpartum depression.
“Studies have shown that this technique is not only beneficial for the baby but it also helps the parents a great deal.”
About the Author
Author: Linda Valle
Linda Valle, PhD, PE, PMP is the CEO and Founder of Nurtured by Design www.nbyd.co In 2001 Linda gave birth prematurely to Zachary, who weighed less than 2 lbs. and was in the intensive care unit for 5 months. He survived the deluge of Tropical Storm Allison that flooded his hospital in Houston and shutdown the power to his life-support equipment. Valle was kept alive “by hand” for 9 hours until he was evacuated. Since that day, Linda dedicates her professional life to improving the quality of life of babies and families. She is a consultant, coach, pioneer and global leader in nurturing developmental care and Kangaroo Care, and has visited hospitals and Kangaroo Care Centers around the world. Linda is the leader in creating safe, ergonomic, and award-winning products that help parents nurture their babies around the clock. She has received 18+ awards including the Oprah’s and Toyota’s Standing Ovation Award, Top 20 Latino Innovators of the Year by NBC Latino, and the Outstanding Woman Owned Business by SCORE. Valle is a healthy fourteen year old and is Nurtured by Design’s CIO (Chief Inspirational Officer.)