What is Kangaroo Mother Care ?
There is something satisfying and enchanting about seeing a mother hold her baby for the first time. Everything about that moment, from the way she cuddles the baby to stroking her head gently with love and kissing her, there is undoubtedly some magic and fulfillment around. Powerful interaction of skin-to-skin contact with the mother can benefit babies in more ways than we can think. The initial interactions during the first moments of life shape a baby’s overall health. Loving maternal contact during the initial stages of life promotes psychological development and maximizes emotional stability. The more an infant is handled with love and care, the more she is stroked and spoken to, the higher will be her resilience and ability to withstand stressful extremities of life later on.
It is known that touch is one of the first senses to develop while the baby is still in the mother’s womb. A baby from its earliest weeks depends on touch for exploring her world. The first 25-120 minutes after birth, both mother and baby relax skin-to-skin (also known as “Kangaroo mother Care”). An infant’s skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth improves breastfeeding, helps the baby breathe and leads to lesser crying.
“Touch is one of the first senses to develop while the baby is still in the womb. From their earliest weeks, babies depend on touch for exploring their world. Touch is so important that some consider skin to be the external nervous system.”
Lynn Erdman , CEO, Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN)
How can I give Kangaroo Care to my baby ?
Here are a few ways through which a mother can increase skin-to-skin contact with her infant and create a bonding:
• After feeding, hold your baby close to your bare chest for a few minutes. This creates a feeling of warmth and care between mother and child.
• Cuddles for your baby can be great after giving a bath to her. This makes the child calm and makes her sleep better.
Even the slightest contact can have beneficial effects on your child. Such gentle and loving touches, particularly in the newborn period, soothes a baby which makes them cry less and sleep better. Motherly contact also facilitates brain development in the child. For mothers, it is also helpful in reducing their stress levels, having lower levels of depression, and being more sensitive to their baby’s cues.
Developmental delay is common in children deprived of normal sensory stimulation – for example, in premature neonates and some institutionalized children. Developmental delay is often seen in children receiving inadequate or inappropriate sensory stimulation. Premature infants are often isolated in incubators and deprived of much of the mechanosensory stimulation (a response reaction to stimuli that affects our 5 senses of vision, auditory, tactile (skin), gustatory (tongue) and nasal ) they would otherwise receive. Field et al (4) and Scafidi et al (5) investigated the effects of tactile (the sense of touch, specifically the information received from varying pressure or vibration against the skin) and kinesthetic ( the knowledge about ones body parts and posture. it tells you about the positioning of your limbs in a given moment) stimulation on the development of premature/low birth weight neonates. In the studies, 20 preterm neonates, recently transferred from the neonatal intensive care unit to the transitional care unit, were given 15 min of mechanosensory stimulation three times per day for 10 days. The procedure was tightly controlled: infants received body stroking for the first and final 5 min of stimulation, and their limbs were gently flexed upward during the intervening 5 min. Several clinical and behavioral variables were monitored, and the stimulated infants were compared with unstimulated controls equivalent in their gestational age (approximately 31 weeks), birth weight (approximately 1.27 kg) and duration of intensive care (approximately 20 days). The data showed that extra mechanosensory stimulation led to superior growth and developmental performance. (The importance of touch in development), Evan L Ardiel, MSc and Catharine H Rankin, PhD; Paediatr Child Health. 2010 Mar; 15(3): 153–156., US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health.
It is said that, for at least the first 1-2 hours after birth, the mother and the child should be in direct contact with each other. There should be a skin-to-skin contact where the baby is naked and is placed on the mother’s bare chest, between her breasts. If the mother is unable to provide skin-to-skin care, due to labor or birth complications, then the father should step in and hold the child close. This exercise shows its benefits within a few minutes, where both the mother and the baby relax. This skin to skin contact or more commonly known as Kangaroo mother care stabilises the baby’s body temperature, breathing, and heart rate.
Few more ways to maintain skin to skin contact with your baby
There are several ways in which you can hold your child close to you to initiate that loving contact. Some of these are discussed below which can be definitely helpful:
- Breastfeeding a baby is the most significant way to establish a skin to skin contact between you and your baby. Apart from sucking on your nipple, when the baby snuggles to you for nursing, she hears your heartbeat and smells the scent of your body that establishes a warm bond between you two.
- Giving a massage to the child is also an effective way to create a contact between you and her. Gentle, rhythmic stroking of your baby’s body with your hands can create an instant connection between you two and is a great way to express love and care for your baby. While massaging, you can talk softly, hum or sing to your baby, which will make the whole experience soothing for her.
- Sleeping close to your newborn also has its beneficial effects. Apart from producing skin to skin contact, it helps her feel safe and secure. The close body contact satisfies both you and your baby psychologically and emotionally and builds a good relationship between you two.
- Gentle strokes done out of love and care is also an excuse of giving your baby kangaroo mother care. You can gently stroke her cheeks, fingers, and toes. Placing your finger in between your child’s palm is an excellent way of reassuring your child about you are present or about all the support and care.
- Another great way to keep your baby close is to hold her carefully close towards your chest while making her sleep. This creates a feeling of warmth between you and your child, and the child feels more secure and attached to her parent.
- Kissing your infant often creates affection and bonding between parent and infant and is another great excuse for close contact between them. This act should personally be encouraged because it creates affection and reduces distress levels between you and your child. It should be noted that gentle kisses on her cheek, fingers or feet reduced anxiety levels in the future and creates longevity of life.
- Using a baby body sling while working in the house or travelling nearby can also provide Kangaroo mother care to your baby inevitably. Having the child carried with you promotes attachment, security, love, and trust in the parent by the child.
Human babies are very much dependent on their parents when born. They undergo huge brain development, growth and neuron pruning in the first two years of life. The brain development of infants (as well as their social, emotional and cognitive development) depends on a loving bond or attachment relationship with a primary caregiver, usually a parent. Infancy is a crucial time for brain development. It is vital that babies and their parents are supported during this time to promote attachment. Without a good initial bond, children are less likely to grow up to become happy, independent and resilient adults. The most important stage for brain development is the beginning of life, starting in the womb and then the first year of life. By the age of three, a child’s brain reaches almost 90% of its adult size. This rapid brain growth and circuitry have been estimated at an astounding rate of 700–1000 synapse connections per second in this period. The experiences a baby has with her caregivers are crucial to this early wiring and pruning and enable millions and millions of new connections in the brain to be made. Repeated interactions and communication lead to pathways being laid down that help memories and relationships form and learning and logic to develop. This means a human baby’s brain is both complicated and vulnerable. (The importance of early bonding on the long-term mental health and resilience of children); Robert Winston a and Rebecca Chicot b , *; London J Prim Care (Abingdon). 2016; 8(1): 12–14. Published online 2016 Feb 24. doi: 10.1080/17571472.2015.1133012
Benefits of skin to skin contact
There are several benefits of providing Kangaroo mother care to your baby. To list a few are:
Reduction in pain:
For a child to be in contact with the mother for prolonged time periods help in reduction in any pain. A loving touch or caress from the mother can help release ‘Happy Hormones’ like oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins that can help alleviate pain and depression while triggering enthusiasm and happiness. This helps in making a child feel good.
Healthier brain development:
Holding a child close has shown to lead to normal and healthy brain development in babies. The physical contact, warmth, and nourishment provided by the mother, create secure attachment and sows the seed for healthy social adjustment for the child in the future. On the contrary, lack of touch can negatively affect a baby’s brain development.
Research shows that newborns who receive early postpartum skin-to-skin contact with their mothers have stronger immune systems. A warm hug and an affectionate caress can actually activate the immune system and help a sick baby to recover. However, lack of human touch can increase the baby’s blood pressure, heighten stress and hormones, and reduce oxygen in the brain thereby increasing the rates of disease and death in newborns.
Babies need an embrace to feel safe. Hence, cuddling a child to sleep can be great to provide them with some sound sleep as it involves the child to be very close to the mother thereby getting in all the warmth and security.
Faster weight gain:
Kangaroo mother care promotes weight gain in babies after delivery. On the contrary, the absence of touch impedes growth in a child. It slows down their metabolism and leaves them stunted both physically and psychologically.
Improved infant and parent mental health:
Touch and physical contact between mother and child builds a strong foundation of love and attachment between them. The love the child receives, when bonding with parents, is nurturing enough for a child to grow up with optimal health in adulthood too. Gentle touches during early childhood create a string attachment and are the basis for social development later on in life.
Stronger parent-child attachment:
The power of touch has its greatest effect and value right after the first few hours after birth. Kangaroo mother care makes a baby transfix on the mother. The mother’s warmth, smell, sound, and touch help the newborn feel safe. The mother becomes more in tune with her newborns need when she exchanges sensory information with her baby.
Better regulation of body temperature:
Right after birth, it is advisable to place the child in mother’s hands to hold the baby close to her chest. This helps the baby in maintaining optimal body temperature, allowing her to conserve energy. The warmth provided by the mother’s body regulates the baby’s body temperature better than putting the child in any incubator or wrapping them in blankets!
During pregnancy, a baby in the womb is very close to its mother where it gets all the warmth, food, protection, and oxygen from a mother’s body. Hence, when labor occurs, a baby suddenly finds itself without immediate access to those essential needs. Studies have shown huge benefits for babies who experience skin-to-skin care with their mothers. When babies are held naked against their mother’s skin, it is the closest they can get to be back in the warmth and security of the womb.