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Kangaroo Care
By Robin H. Steinhorn, MD
Robin H. Steinhorn, MDQ. What is Kangaroo Care?

A. Kangaroo care is a special way for parents to hold their premature baby. The premature baby, wearing only a diaper, is placed directly on the parent's bare chest, skin to skin, chest to chest. Kangaroo Care has been studied for more than 20 years. It was first implemented in Bogota, Columbia, and was found to be very beneficial in improving outcomes for premature babies.

A number of subsequent studies have shown that Kangaroo Care has a major, positive impact on babies and their parents. Skin-to-skin contact has been reported to improve thermal regulation, respiratory patterns, and oxygen saturation; reduce apnea and bradycardia; increase rate of infant weight gain; and shorten hospital stay. For the parent, Kangaroo Care promotes bonding, makes the stress of early delivery more bearable, gives parents a chance to do something positive for their baby, and increases milk production for moms. No study has shown that Kangaroo Care harms either parent or baby in any way, so don't be afraid to try this, even if your baby is very tiny.

Recent studies indicate that the effects of Kangaroo Care reach beyond the hospitalization phase of prematurity. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that parents who provided Kangaroo Care also provided a more sensitive and appropriately stimulating home environment, and were more sensitive, adaptive, warm, and resourceful during social interactions at 6 months. Infants who had received Kangaroo Care were more socially alert, and their developmental scores at 6 months were higher in the mental and motor skill tests.

Be sure to ask about this. Most neonatal units now allow parents to provide Kangaroo Care, but the protocols vary somewhat depending on the individual hospital.

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