What is kangaroo care?
Kangaroo care is a method of holding a baby that involves skin-to-skin contact. The baby, who is naked except for a diaper and a piece of cloth covering his or her back (either a receiving blanket or the parent's clothing), is placed in an upright position against a parent's bare chest. This snuggling of the infant inside the pouch of their parent's shirt, much like a kangaroo's pouch, led to the creation of the term "kangaroo care."
How did kangaroo care come about?
Kangaroo care came about as a response to the high death rate in preterm babies seen in Bogotá, Colombia, in the late 1970s. There, the death rate for premature infants was 70 percent. The babies were dying of infections, respiratory problems, and simply due to lack of attention. Researchers found that babies who were held close to their mothers' bodies for large portions of the day not only survived, but thrived. In the United States, hospitals that encourage kangaroo care typically have their mothers or fathers provide skin-to-skin contact with their preterm babies for several hours each day. However, skin-to-skin contact is encouraged for all babies, including term babies.
What are the benefits of kangaroo care?
The benefits of kangaroo care to the baby include:
- Stabilization of the baby's heart rate
- Improved (more regular) breathing pattern
- Improved oxygen saturation levels (an indicator of how well oxygen is being delivered to all the infants organs and tissues)
- Gain in sleep time
- More rapid weight gain
- Decreased crying
- More successful breastfeeding episodes
- Earlier hospital discharge
The benefits of kangaroo care to the parents include:
- Improved bonding, feelings of closeness with their babies
- Increased breast milk supply
- Increased confidence in ability to care for their babies
- Increased confidence that their babies are well cared for
- Increased sense of control
Why does kangaroo care work?
The benefits of kangaroo care listed above have all been demonstrated in research studies. In fact, studies have found that skin-to-skin holding stabilizes heart and respiratory rates, improves oxygen saturation rates, better regulates an infant's body temperature, and conserves a baby's calories.
When a mother is kangarooing, the infant typically snuggles into the breast and falls asleep within a few minutes. The breasts themselves have been shown to change in temperature to accommodate a baby body's changing temperature needs. In other words, the breast can increase in temperature when the infant's body is cool and can decrease in temperature as the baby is warmed. The extra sleep that the infant gets snuggling with mom and the assistance in regulating body temperature helps the baby conserve energy and redirects calorie expenditures toward growth and weight gain. Being positioned on mom also helps to stabilize the infant's respiratory and heart rates. Finally, research has also shown that kangaroo care results in positive effects on brain development.
How to get started
Your nurse will discuss kangaroo care with you. General instructions for performing kangaroo care are as follows:
- Remove your bra and wear a blouse or shirt that opens in the front. (A hospital gown that opens in the front can be made available for your use.) Screens will be provided for your privacy.
- The baby, wearing only a diaper and hat, will be placed on your bare chest in an upright position.
- Cover the baby with your shirt, gown, or a blanket.
- Now simply relax and enjoy this unique bonding experience.
- Plan on holding your baby for at least one hour four or more times a week.
- Let your baby rest. This is not a time to play with your baby.
Fathers can provide kangaroo care for their babies too. The different feel of the father's body will provide different stimulation to the baby.
For further information, please contact your baby's nurse.
- American Pregnancy Association: Premature care
- March of Dimes Foundation: Kangaroo care
- Hand to Hold: The benefits of kangaroo care
- Campbell-Yeo M, Disher T, Benoit B, Johnston C. Understanding kangaroo care and its benefits to preterm infants. Pediatric Health, Medicine & Therapeutics [serial online]. March 2015; 6:15-33. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA.
© Copyright 1995-2017 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.
This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 6/16/2015…#12578