By Meghna Badami
Human pregnancy lasts for an average of 40 weeks. A good 280 days for the fetus to grow in size, develop various organ systems and slowly learn how to be an independent being. What if, however, the baby is born before those 40 weeks? Growing outside the mother’s womb connected to numerous tubes and machines can be daunting for a premature baby- both emotionally and physically. Such issues can be tackled by the idea of Kangaroo Care.
Also called skin-to-skin therapy, Kangaroo care refers to placing the preterm infant on the bare chest of a mother or father. The term is used as an analogy to how marsupials carry their young. The practice first started the 1970s in Colombia. The ideology behind Kangaroo Care is that the warmth and love of the mother can help a baby get through the first weeks that it was supposed to spend in the womb, but now is forced into an incubator. The entire contraption has proved to make the baby feel hostile and some even suggest that it is more harmful than helping.
In Kangaroo care, the baby wears only a diaper and is placed in a fetal position with maximum skin-to-skin contact with the parent. The prime advantage of this technique is that the stable body temperature of the parent helps to maintain the baby’s own temperature and homeostasis. For preterm infants, growing and eating can prove to be heavily energy requiring processes. Hence with the absence of spending energy to maintain body temperature, the baby can now spend less calories leading to faster weight gain.
Moreover, the infant feels safe in the arms of a parent and hence can fall asleep more easily which in turn helps in development. The tight bundling stimulates various centers in the baby’s brain: vestibular stimulation from the parent’s chest movements, the breathing rates, auditory stimulation from the parent’s voice and heartbeat. Studies have shown that skin-to-skin therapy has helped babies improve cognitive development, decrease stress levels, reduce pain responses, better motor development, heart rate and respiratory rate.
Some studies say that the hormonal levels of the parent helps to normalize the same in the infant as well. The WHO suggests that Kangaroo care helps to improve breastfeeding habits by aiding in imprinting (since the baby’s first instinct is to latch on to the mother and feed), reduces crying and improves the baby’s immunity.
Apart from positive effects on the baby, Kangaroo care also helps to increase bonding between the baby and its parents.
More than a decade ago, parents weren’t allowed into the NICU, let alone hold their babies. But today more than 80% of hospitals in the United States promote Kangaroo Care. The numerous stories of babies that have made it solely because of this technique proves that no amount of medical technology can replace the warm touch of a parent.