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Kangaroo Care

Originally used with preterm infants, kangaroo care has become a well-researched method of increasing breastfeeding rates, decreasing newborn illness, and improving bonding between mother and child.

Kangaroo care started as a method of caring for preterm infants, particularly in third world countries where resources were limited. Physicians in wealthier nations noted that the results of kangaroo care were better than the most modern care in neonatal intensive care units. Reserach continues to demonstrate the value of this simple and essential technique for full-term and pre-term infants.

The mother or father are upright, and the baby has nothing but a diaper and a newborn cap on. In some places, the two are wrapped together with a sheet or shawl. This allows the shared warmth between mother and baby to stay together, and provides the mother with some privacy.

The benefits for pre-term baby have included:
  • Increased rates of breastfeeding success
  • Decrease in infection rates
  • Shorter hospital stays
  • Warmer body temperature
  • Reduces separation of the infant from the mother
  • Decreases parental anxiety
  • Enhances the bond between mother and infant
  • Increased neurological development of the infant
Not surprisingly, parents with preterm infants preferred this method of caring for the infant compared to maintaining the baby in the incubator.

No deleterious effects to Kangaroo Care have been found. A review of the literature from 1983 to 2004 was published in Portuguese. An abstract written in English is available and lists the following advantages:
  • Almost 50% decrease in hospital acquired infection
  • 66% lower respiratory tract infection at six months of age
  • 30% decrease in severe illness
  • An average increased weight gain of 3.6 grams per day.
In spite of these advantages found by the reviewers, SEBAC appears to have influenced their conclusions which stated:

"Although the method appears to reduce severe infant morbidity without any serious deleterious effect reported, there is still insufficient evidence to recommend its routine use."


They do make the common conclusion that further studies should be developed, although they noted earlier that "Since its first description, Kangaroo Mother Care has been extensively studied."

Similarly, another group of reviewers, this time in France, also noted the various advantages of skin to skin contact for preterm infants. The English abstract states, "Kangaroo Mother Care contributes to decrease anxiety of parents and improves the relations with their child. However, it is difficult to recommend their use in current practice. Rigorous, randomized studies are necessary to argue their establishment in full safety."

The fact that 26 years of studies have not produced any deleterious effects is not considered good enough evidence for safety for such a simple procedure as keeping mother and baby skin to skin. Imagine if that kind of safety testing for 26 years was extended to pharmacological products!

The advantages of this contact should not be lightly brushed over. Infants placed in the earliest incubators with no parental contact were often abandoned by their parents. Sadly, premature infants are still at greater risk of parental neglect today. Klaus and Kennel found that while children who had been premature babies made up only 7-8% of the child population, 25 – 40% of children who were abused were premature.

Meanwhile, Kangaroo Care has documented the physical and psychological benefits of early contact. This contact does not have to be solely for the premature baby. Healthy full term infants also thrive with skin to skin contact.

How to Use Kangaroo Care

A simple method of using the kangaroo wrap is to fold a sheet lengthwise. With the mother undressed, place the baby's head between her breasts, looking in one direction or the other. Wrap the sheet around both mother and baby and tuck it in. If she chooses, the mother can then wear a front-opening top or a hospital gown turned to open in the front. The baby's head can be left open but the breast covered by the gown.

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Enhancing Birth Breastfeeding and Bonding

By Karen Newell Copyright 2011 - 2012 Better Childbirth Outcomes - All Rights Reserved
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, USA