What is kangaroo care?
Kangaroo care is a method of caring for stabilised low-weight or premature babies outside an incubator. As the name suggests, it involves strapping your baby to your chest, with skin-to-skin contact between the baby and parent helping to maintain a healthy body temperature.
Benefits of kangaroo care
Parents who use this method often say they find it a very satisfying way to nurture and bond with their baby. Many also report that their babies seem to love this method of care – perhaps because it reminds them of life inside the womb. It also has health benefits. Kangaroo care compared to traditional care has been found to reduce the instances of infection, hypothermia, severe illness, lower respiratory tract disease and reduce the length of hospital stay. Kangaroo care helped parents bond with their babies and helped the babies have improved interactions with parents.
When kangaroo care might not be suitable
Kangaroo care is not suitable for babies who are still very premature, or whose health is unstable. For others it might only be advisable for short periods, or once every few days.
It also depends which hospital you're in. Some baby units may be unwilling to offer kangaroo care if they are not familiar with this way of working or do not have the resources to carry it out safely.
Timing is important. Units whose staff have experience of kangaroo care are often happy for parents to practise it from around 28–30 weeks.
How to do it: kangaroo care
- Wear a front-opening top.
- Always wash your hands before picking up your baby.
- Dress your baby in just a nappy and maybe a hat if the nurse advises it.
- Place the baby on your chest – for women, between the breasts.
- Wrap your top around her to keep her warm.
- Lean back, relax and enjoy the closeness with your baby.
Kangaroo care is often possible even for a baby who is attached to tubes and wires, but you will need to stay near the machines and try not to move around too much.
Find out about other ways to bond with your baby.
The best thing you can do for your baby is to look after yourself. That way, you will be better equipped to handle the challenges that face you and your family.
The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)/special care baby unit (SCBU)/neonatal unit becomes the centre of the universe for parents of premature babies, so it's important to familiarise yourself with the way it operates.
The first few days after giving birth to your premature baby can pass in a daze. Here's what to expect...
If your baby is very young and very sick, they may need to be transferred to another hospital with specialist facilities. This might be done before they are born or just afterwards.
Whatever your premature baby's birth was like, it will have taken a lot out of you, so try to rest and gather your strength for the days ahead. The medical team will assess your baby's health and start treating them if necessary.
The healthcare team will cater for your baby's medical needs, but they need you too. As you get to know your premature baby, you will begin to work out what they need.
Your premature baby's diet will be carefully balanced to suit their tiny digestive system while meeting the needs of their growing body.
Positioning your premature baby correctly can make them feel secure, improve their breathing ability, strengthen their muscles and reduce the risk of cot death.
You may be asked if you would consider taking part in research into premature birth. We explain what this might involve.
We answer some of your questions about your premature baby's time in the hospital and neonatal unit.
You're bound to feel anxious if your premature baby needs surgery, but try to focus on the positive: the operation is likely to help improve your baby's chances.
During their stay in the baby unit, your baby will have all kinds of checks to monitor their progress.
If your premature baby has any of the conditions below, ask the healthcare team to explain anything that you don’t understand.
Babies born prematurely are more likely to have problems with their eyesight and hearing, but in most cases treatment is successful.
Premature babies have less developed immune systems and are more susceptible to infection, but there are ways to reduce the risk.
It's worrying if you discover that your baby has a heart problem, but most defects are treatable and some do not even need treatment.
Many premature babies need help with breathing for a while. This is known as ventilation.
- Conde-Agudelo A, Belizán JM, Diaz-Rossello J (2011) Kangaroo mother care to reduce morbidity and mortality in low birthweight infants, Cochrane Review, Cochrane Neonatal Group, Cochrane Library, Wiley Online Library
- Feldman R, Eidelman AI, Sirota L, Weller A (2002) Comparison of skin-to-skin and traditional care: parenting outcomes and preterm infant development, Pediatrics, Vol 110, No 1, p16–26
- Fohe K, Dropf S, Avenarius S (2000) Skin-to-skin contact improves gas exchange in premature infant, Journal of Perinatalogy, Vol 23, p311–15
- Rennie JM (2005) Roberton's Textbook of Neonatology, England, Churchill Livingstone, p389
ℹLast reviewed on April 1st, 2014. Next review date April 1st, 2017.