Bonding with parents by making skin-to-skin contact as soon after birth as possible is one of the best things new families can do to create lasting connections.
By Casandra Andrews
There are certain things all babies need to thrive. Besides nourishment and a safe environment, bonding with parents by making skin-to-skin contact as soon after birth as possible is one of the best things new families can do to create lasting connections.
When infants are born prematurely, though, parents are not always able to snuggle with their newborns in the minutes — or sometimes even weeks — after childbirth. That’s one of the reasons members of the level III neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Children’s & Women’s Hospital routinely practice what is known as kangaroo care and celebrate Kangaroo Care Awareness Day each May.
Research shows the benefits of kangaroo care for babies include a stable heart rate, improved oxygen saturation and respiratory rate, plus increased milk production for the mom. It also is considered a way to reduce stress for patients in the NICU, who often undergo months of separation from their mothers and other caregivers when it is not yet safe for them to be held.
Kangaroo care got its name from the way a kangaroo cradles its young in a pouch after birth. And just as a baby joey benefits from staying close to its mother in a warm spot, human infants also benefit from skin-to-skin contact with their parents. The bonding practice was named in the 1970s and remains popular today.
Dozens of parents shared time with their infants at the hospital last week, placing little ones on their chest to take part in the skin-to-skin initiative. See photos from this year's event on our Facebook page.
The NICU at Children’s & Women’s Hospital has a long history of helping the smallest babies thrive. In a two-year period from 2016 to 2018, more than 96 percent of the babies born at 26 weeks' gestation survived at the hospital. The survival rate for babies born at 22 weeks' (or about 5 months') gestation during the same time was close to 70 percent at the hospital. Typically, 1,000 babies a year "graduate" from the neonatal intensive care unit.
As part of the region’s only academic health system, specially trained neonatologists and other faculty members help train the next generation of physicians and other care providers through the Frederick P. Whiddon College of Medicine at the University of South Alabama.
USA Health also has the area's only neonatal transport team to provide life support and advanced care to fragile and critically ill newborns during emergency ambulance transport to Children’s & Women’s Hospital.