Kangaroo mother care – the way nature intended

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There is no better incubator and home for a fetus to develop than within his/her mommy’s tummy. But sadly for some babies who are born too early, technology needs to play a role in keeping a baby warm and creating a space to continue developing. Even full term babies born by caesarean section are placed in incubators to warm them up.

But this foreign world is so far from the comforting sensory world of the womb. Welma Lubbe, Clinical Nurse specialist and founder of Little Steps, tells us a little about kangaroo mother care (KMC) as a wonderful sensory alternative to care for medically stable premature babies, those born by caesar and even full term babies. KMC or more scientifically known as skin-to-skin care refers to the continuous nursing of a baby skin-to-skin on the mother’s or father’s chest. The baby is dressed only in a nappy and then placed on the mother’s naked chest between her breasts with the head underneath her chin.

KMC and birth

A mother’s temperature rises by one degree Celsius during pregnancy. If her baby is cold when placed onto her mother’s chest, mom’s temperature will rise by another two degrees Celsius, and if the baby is too warm her temperature will drop by one degree Celsius, to help cool her baby.

Amazingly, this is even evident in twins – when twins are placed in skin-to-skin, each breast will change temperature to suit the temperature needs of the baby on that breast. Unfortunately dads do not have this temperature regulating ability, but the baby on dad’s chest will help regulate her own temperature by extending a limb to cool herself. For dad’s skin-to-skin care is a great way of bonding.

Other effects of KMC

Baby’s who receive skin-to-skin care as often as possible are more alert, sleep better, absorb their feeds better and therefore grows better and cry less at six month of age.

Skin-to-skin care further contributes to better milk supply and sleep synchrony, as well as less infection. Babies born by caesarean section or who came too early may suffer from breathing difficulties and skin-to-skin care is the most effective technique used to decrease the baby’s oxygen needs, stabilises heart rate and breathing and even blood pressure.

KMC at home

Even older babies can be cared for in skin-to-skin as long as she finds it comfortable. This is especially helpful if you take your baby home during the winter and need to help her control her temperature. Try to KMC your baby for 90 minutes at a time, allowing her to cycle through the sleep states and enjoy a longer period of sleep. In preemie babies, to have the most benefit from skin-to-skin care, it should be practiced as often as possible for as long a period as possible. If you could not start at birth, start as soon as possible thereafter – it is never too late.

Some parents continue with skin-to-skin care even until toddler age, which is great for parent and child.

By Welma Lubbe

The primary source of information included in this article is the work of Dr Nils Bergman. More information on his work can be found on his website www.kangaroomothercare.com.

About the author: Welma Lubbe is a Clinical Nursing Specialist and Educator with a masters degree in Nursing. She is currently busy with her PhD on Neurodevelopmental Supportive Care. Welma is the founder and owner of Little Steps and president of SANITSA.