Kangaroo Care is a method of creating a bond between babies and their parents that has proven to have benefits for all involved.
“Kangaroo Care is chest-to-chest holding between parents and their babies,” says Deborah Locicero, a lactation consultant in the Johns Hopkins All Children's neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). “Skin-to-skin contact helps the baby sleep longer, keeps the baby warm and can help with post-partum depression. In the NICU, we start them out on Kangaroo Care holding as soon as possible."
Locicero helped promote the method on May 15, International Kangaroo Care Awareness day. She explained the benefits of human skin bonding, especially for low-birth-weight babies and others in the NICU who might have less physical contact with their parents while in the hospital. She says Kangaroo Care is basically a medicine, and it helps babies heal. It's also a boost for parents.
“For moms who can’t breastfeed yet, it’s a wonderful way to change psychologically how a mom feels,” Locicero points out. “She might be experiencing sadness because her baby is sick or premature. When the mother holds her baby skin-to-skin it promotes bonding and also assists with the mother's milk coming in.”
In fact, a recent 20-year study completed by the American Pediatric Association confirms that introducing Kangaroo Care to low-weight infants reduces medical and psychological disorders attributable to prematurity. This period is key for brain maturation and early attachment relationships.
This study indicates that Kangaroo Care had significant, long-lasting social and behavioral protective effects 20 years after the intervention. The effects of Kangaroo Care at 1 year on IQ and home environment were still present 20 years later in the most fragile individuals, and these parents were more protective and nurturing, reflected by reduced school absenteeism and reduced hyperactivity, aggressiveness, externalization, and socio-deviant conduct of young adults. These impressive results suggest Kangaroo Care be used for all preterm and low-birth-weight babies born each year.
Fathers Benefit as Well
Kangaroo Care is for fathers too and, on a recent Johns Hopkins All Children's Facebook Live, Donnie, a father of newborn twins, found the experience incredible.
“When I put her on my chest, within seconds, I felt this overwhelming joy and gratitude," he says. "Now I just want to do it more and more.”
Donnie says he wants to shout from the rooftops for all fathers to have this experience and bonding with their child.
There are scientific benefits for fathers too. “It’s physiological,” Locicero adds. “It’s a bonding experience for the parents.” The first hour of a baby’s life is called the magical hour. Skin-to-skin care is vital during that time because it brings the mother and baby together.
It also helps spread skin flora. This is the good bacteria that is naturally shared between mother and child during child birth. Skin-to-skin contact helps continue spreading that skin flora, which builds the baby’s immune system. Good bacteria has many benefits that are still being studied including improving brain health long-term.
“Kangaroo Care is the foundation of everything,” Locicero concludes.
To learn more about Kangaroo Care, visit hopkinsallchildrens.org/Kangaroo Care.