What is kangaroo care?
The name ‘kangaroo care’ comes from the way kangaroos hold their babies in their pouch. It involves holding your baby against your chest. This can include skin-to-skin contact. Skin-to-skin contact with your premature baby is a wonderful way for you both to bond. It also benefits your baby’s health. Kangaroo care can include breastfeeding your baby if you’re able to or want to do so.
You can start kangaroo care as soon as you and your baby are ready and your healthcare team will help you decide when this is. You can continue with kangaroo care after you go home from hospital, with support from your healthcare team.
How can kangaroo care help me and my baby?
Many parents say that kangaroo care helped them to bond with their baby. It can also help to reduce stress and anxiety, helping parents feel more confident about looking after their premature baby. Both parents and siblings can practise kangaroo care with their baby.
Kangaroo care helps babies adapt to life outside the womb. It improves babies’ sleep and growth and helps protect them against infection and low body temperature (hypothermia). It also helps you prepare for breastfeeding (if you’re breastfeeding) and can reduce the length of time your baby spends in hospital.
"We treasured our kangaroo care time. Our son would settle in completely different ways on each of us, which was amazing and we continued kangaroo care at home for a long time. Our now 5-year-old still snuggles up to us in the same position. He’s just a lot bigger now!"
Can all babies have kangaroo care?
Kangaroo care may not be suitable for babies if their condition is not stable. Some babies may only be able to cope with occasional kangaroo care. The nurses will try to help you and your baby practise kangaroo care, whenever it is possible to do so safely. They will take into account your condition, your baby’s condition and how busy the unit is.
Some parents find it difficult to give their baby kangaroo care. For example, if you’re in discomfort after the birth you may find it difficult to hold your baby for long periods of time. Some parents can’t spend as much time at the hospital as they would like, maybe because they have other children to care for or because they have to travel a long way to the hospital.
It’s completely natural to feel disappointed or upset if you’re not able to enjoy skin-to-skin contact as soon as your baby is born. But you can start and continue doing skin-to-skin in the days, weeks and months to come. If you breastfeed, you’ll have plenty of opportunities. Both parents can do skin-to-skin when bottle-feeding too.
Talk to your medical team if you want to spend time having kangaroo care but don’t feel that you’re getting the chance. Having skin-to-skin time with your baby should be encouraged. If staff in the unit are not doing this, don’t be afraid to ask.
“I think it’s completely normal to feel anxious and nervous to hold your baby if they are born early, are very small and with a lot of equipment attached to them. This was definitely the case with my husband. He was comforted by the fact that the nurses never expected him to be able to handle and position our son on his chest by himself.”
Kangaroo care: step by step
- Ensure you have visited the toilet, had a drink or have one to hand and make sure you have had any medications and/or pain relief you need first.
- Avoid using strong smelling soaps or wearing perfume/aftershave as this can be overwhelming for most babies.
- Wear a front-opening or loose top if having skin-to-skin.
- Always wash your hands before picking up your baby.
- Place the baby upright on your chest.
- If you’re doing skin-to-skin, wrap your top around your baby to keep them warm. Otherwise, a blanket can be used.
- You may feel more comfortable if you have a pillow under your elbow that is resting on the chair arm.
- Lean back, relax and enjoy the closeness with your baby. You can use a mirror to look at your baby if you wish.
If your baby is attached to tubes or wires, your healthcare team will guide you on the safest way to care for them. You may be able to give your baby kangaroo care but you will need to stay near the machines and try not to move around too much.
Alternatives to kangaroo care
If you can’t do kangaroo care for any reason, there are other kinds of touch you can do.
Hand hugging is when you place one hand on your baby’s head and cup the other around the baby’s bottom. Just make sure you clean your hands first.
Modified kangaroo care or encircled holding is when the top of the incubator is removed, and the parent leans over the baby while the baby is still in the incubator. This is a wonderful way to connect with your baby. It doesn’t necessarily last as long as a standard kangaroo care session, but some parents say it can have positive effects. For example, some mum’s say it helped them with milk production.
Bliss has more information about skin-to-skin contact with your premature baby.
Find out about other ways to bond with your baby.