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The benefits of kangaroo care for newborns include a stable heart rate, improved oxygen saturation and respiratory rate, and often increased milk production for the mother, research shows.

Published May 23rd, 2024

By Casandra Andrews

A warm hug between a parent and child can mend more than meets the eye.

Science backs this up.

To recognize the importance of a parental bonding technique known as skin-to-skin contact, 36 families with infants in the neonatal intensive care unit at USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital spent time snuggling with their babies during Kangaroo Care Awareness Day on May 15.

The practice 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.

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 mother. It also is considered a way to reduce stress for the tiniest patients in the NICU, who often are separated from their parents and caregivers for extended periods.

At the only level III NICU in the region, physicians and nurses dressed up in kangaroo suits and posed for photos with many of the families as part of the day’s festivities. Parents also had a chance to take part in a class where they decorated frames to mark the occasion. The frames and other treats were donated by the Skylar Project, a local nonprofit that supports the parents of NICU patients.

“A great thing about this technique is that moms and dads can both participate,” said Courtney Thomson, RNC-NIC, BSN, a parent educator in the NICU. “Having a child in an intensive care unit can often be a challenging experience. That’s one reason we create opportunities, such as Kangaroo Care Awareness Day, for parents and newborns to share positive experiences that enhance bonding.”

Here’s how the skin-to-skin technique works:

  • A baby, dressed in a diaper and often a cap, is placed on a parent’s chest so that the infant is resting directly on their skin.
  • The parent should turn the baby’s head to one side, so one of his or her ears can hear their heartbeat.
  • The infant should be covered with a blanket to stay warm.
  • Parents are encouraged to hold their baby in that position for at least an hour.

See photos from this year’s event.

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