Giving a Helping Hug: Kangaroo Care and Preemies

May 5, 2014

When my sweet Haley was 5 days old, I was discharged from the hospital.  I had only held her once and it was only for a few minutes.  As I was leaving, one of the NICU nurses asked me if I had tried kangaroo holding yet.  I had no idea what she was even talking about.

Photo courtesy of  Nicole Polk Photography

Photo courtesy of Nicole Polk Photography

Kangaroo care or kangaroo holding is when mom and baby (or dad and baby) are sitting, or reclining rather, skin to skin.  When your baby is against your skin they are able to maintain their temperature much better, often they can regulate their breathing and heart rates (this does not mean they no longer need the help of the NICU or ventilator or CPAP machines).  In other countries where they don’t have access to isolettes, this is how they keep the babies warm.  It has benefits for mom as well.  Not only is it a special time, it helps with bonding and with mom’s milk supply.  Kangaroo care is not a new idea, it has been around for years.

Some benefits of kangaroo care, shared from Hand to Hold, include:

  • Regulate heart rate, temperature and breathing
  • Improve head circumference, weight gain and growth
  • Stabilize organ function and self-regulation abilities
  • Experience less pain and less crying
  • Facilitate better sleep patterns
  • Avoid infections
  • Take advantage of better nutrition from mothers’ increased milk production
  • Be more willing to breastfeed
  • Enjoy a shorter hospital stay

Two special times stand out in my mind from my NICU stay.  One was the first time I tried kangaroo care with Haley.  She was so tiny and I was terrified to hold her.  My nurse could sense my fears.  She turned my seat away from Haley’s monitors.  She told me, “You don’t need to worry about the monitors, that’s my job.  Just sit and enjoy your daughter.”  For one hour, I sat with my baby girl; I started to feel like her mom. It was so amazing.

If I can offer any advice I would first say, turn your chair away from the monitor.  Don’t look at it.  Worrying about your baby’s stats will interfere with your bonding time.  Just sit and enjoy your child.  Take it all in.  Talk quietly to them.  Tell them how much you love them.  Trust me, you will not regret it!

My second memory was the day Haley came off CPAP.  She wasn’t scheduled to come off that day.  There was a mix up and her sprinting time (her one hour off CPAP) was done before I got there.  She was scheduled to have pictures that day also, so they let her go a little longer for the pictures.  I asked to kangaroo with her for the second part of the pictures and the doctor agreed she could stay off a little longer because she was doing ok.  The pictures were done, but I wasn’t ready to leave.  The nurse came and saw how well Haley was doing laying on me, so they allowed us more time.  Jokingly the doctor teased that if I could stay all the time, she would not have to go back on CPAP, but after four hours I had to go home.  Reluctantly, I kissed her and put her back in her isolette.  When we came back that night the doctor told us Haley would not keep her CPAP on.  I think she was trying to tell us she was done with it.  They don’t normally do this, but they decided to see how she would do without it.  It was an amazing miracle.  I think three hours of kangaroo care helped with that!

Of course, this is an unusual case.  It won’t happen this way for most babies.  What I want you to take away though, is that kangaroo care really does help.  It makes such a difference in our preemies.  These special moments bonding with mom (or dad) are so important.  When babies are relaxed, their brains and bodies can develop and grow.  It is important that you give your baby a good amount of time when you are kangaroo holding them.  Most advocates recommend at least an hour.  This helps them get into a good, relaxed sleep, allowing them to get the maximum benefits of this special hold.

We made it a point to kangaroo hold Haley every day.  Once they gave us the ok to do it twice a day, I would take one time and my husband would take the other.  It really helped him to bond with Haley and her to bond with him.  I have pictures of them sleeping together in the NICU.  They were both so relaxed.  So my second piece of advice is to do it often.  It’s good for you and good for your baby.  And third, let your spouse get involved.  Haley and her daddy are very close.  I think it all started back the NICU.  He took the time to experience kangaroo care and bond with her.

My fondest NICU memories are of holding my baby.  I will never forget those moments.  I hope you have moments like that.