Around 1978, Drs. Edgar Rey and Hector Martinez made a visit to a small Colombian mountain village where they observed a grandmother carrying a grandchild on her chest under wraps that formed a pouch. They noted she was carrying the baby like a kangaroo carries a young joey. The doctors wondered whether this would work in their small neonatal hospital where there was inadequate heat or isolettes, a shortage of healthcare workers and a very high mortality rate. Their vision was that the babies' mothers would act as incubators supplying warmth, nutrition and bonding. In the first year, infant mortality in the ultra rural hospital decreased 70 percent.
After years of research, the practice, which is called Kangaroo Care, has spread worldwide. Flagstaff Medical Center supports the use of Kangaroo Care in its Special Care Nursery, Labor and Obstetric Units.
Parents often ask for a list of what they need for the arrival of their newborn. The common necessities most know of include a car seat, safe sleep area, diapers, clothes and blankets. However, healthcare workers also know that some of the most important things we can give our babies are things we don't buy. Rocking, reading stories and playing helps an infant develop trust and maintain developmental growth.
One of the most important things we can give our infant from the moment of birth is Kangaroo Care or holding our baby skin-to-skin. Research has indicated that babies experience enhanced attachment and bonding when they are placed directly on their mother's chest at birth. This provides a habitat of warmth and nutrition. In the delivery room the infant is quickly dried and placed skin-to-skin with its mother and a warm blanket is placed across the couple. Careful attention is given to positioning the baby's head to maintain a safe airway for breathing.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that full-term infants remain in Kangaroo Care until after the first breastfeeding. Researchers have found that mothers who continue to provide Kangaroo Care for their infants at home have more success with breastfeeding, have improved milk supply and an increased duration of breastfeeding. Studies also indicate that Kangaroo Care promotes more maternal confidence regarding infant care.
Fathers can also participate in Kangaroo Care. Spending time daily skin-to-skin with their baby provides dads with an avenue to bond, comfort and love their newborn. Babies learn quickly that their father is a trusted, tender resource.
Kangaroo Care for premature infants is a way to decrease stress in both parents and baby. This closeness promotes comfort, warmth, bonding, as well as more stabilized breathing and heart rates for baby.
May 15 is International Kangaroo Care Awareness Day. Ask your healthcare provider about more information about Kangaroo Care.
Jan Sliva, R.N., B.S.N., is a childbirth educator, certified infant massage instructor and certified Kangaroo Care provider. Is there a health topic you'd like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o FMC Public Relations, 1200 N. Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit FlagstaffMedicalCenter.com. For more information, please see your physician.
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