Kangaroo Care Helps EHS Mothers Build Strong Healthy Relationships with Their Babies and Produces the Best Possible Health and Growth in Infants

What is Kangaroo Care? It is a very simple idea. A baby is held skin-to-skin on their mother’s chest in the first few hours of life and for a few hours a day thereafter. That time with mom helps regulate a baby’s body temperature, breathing, heart rate, oxygen level, and helps him sleep more deeply. Following this practice, the baby will grow faster with better weight gain and brain function, have fewer infections and will be substantially healthier than if the baby had no skin-to-skin time with mom. Kangaroo Care is a smart practice for full term babies as well as preemies. The practice of skin-to-skin contact also benefits mothers. They bond with their babies and it relaxes them. They have less anxiety and post partum depression because of the opportunities to spend quiet time and fall in love with their babies. Family Foundations Early Head Start (FF EHS) encourages moms to make the most of every opportunity to build a loving relationship with their child.

In October 2010, Shawn Duquette, R.N. and Miriam Messick, from Family Foundations Early Head Start attended a professional development conference at Magee-Womens Hospital. The Keynote speaker was Dr. Susan Ludington, the leading US researcher on Kangaroo Care.

Shawn and Miriam were very impressed with Dr. Ludington’s presentation. Shawn suggested that Dr. Ludington come and present a full-day summary training on Kangaroo Care to the Family Foundations staff. Dr. Ludington visited FF EHS in January 2011. Family Foundations staff members were all really excited by the research. "It was such a good match with what we believe in, in terms of attachment, early bonding between mom and child not only the physical but the psychological advantages." said Susan Stiffler, McKees Rocks Site Coordinator.

The practice of skin-to skin contact started in Columbia, in impoverished areas of the country. Dr. Ludington spent years going back and forth to Columbia, doing research where skin-to-skin was being practiced and was getting excellent results. The research of Dr. Ludington and many others has proven that this is the best possible practice after birth as well as post partum and up to 6 to 8 months depending on the mother and child.

Today, there is a plethora of research about Kangaroo Care. There are 400-plus studies that just cover thermal regulation and the advantages of skin-to-skin contact right after birth, not to mention hundreds more on other research topics related to health concerns for newborns. “It just makes sense on so many levels and the research bares that out.” said Susan. The research has shown that if the baby is cold the mother’s body temperature will warm up until the baby is the right temperature, if the baby is too hot the mother’s body temperature will cool until the baby is the right temperature. And in the case of twins, the areas of contact on the mother’s body with the two infants will differ, keeping each baby’s body temperature regulated.

The next step for FF EHS was to make sure staff were certified in Kangaroo Care, so in June 2011, a group of 5 staff members went to Cleveland for the 2 ½ day Certification Course. Then, in the summer of 2012, FF EHS sent 10 more people for Certification training.

Because this is such a well-documented and researched practice, it is surprising how few hospitals actually practice it in our area. At the training, they announced that the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) has included Kangaroo Care in their accreditation process. So it is a mystery, why it is not being practiced.

Our society is so focused on technological medical supports that it may be a foreign concept in many healthcare institutions, especially for babies who are born prematurely. The established procedure in hospitals is to clean up at-risk babies, perform tests, and get them on monitors in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) right after birth. The staff may resist any disruption in their established procedures. And Kangaroo Care takes time. The recommendation is for 1 hour of skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth, for babies who are having breathing difficulty and temperature regulation issues whether they are preemies or full term babies. The positioning of the baby is crucial; mother reclining at an angle, skin-to-skin between the bare chested mom and the baby in nothing but a diaper covered in 4 layers of receiving blanket and a hat on the baby for 1 hour. When the babies get a little older they can be held while the mother is standing up.

FF EHS is committed to informing families about Kangaroo Care and supporting them as they practice it. "It is such a positive possibility for many of our families, for so many of our children who are at high-risk and moms that have high-risk pregnancies." said Susan, "That makes so much sense to our staff and our families. It is so natural; the first instinct a mother has is to hold her baby."

FF EHS is still at the beginning stages of their involvement with this important practice; facing the challenges involved in establishing it and encouraging parents to participate, though there is virtually no resistance on the part of the families. However, there is resistance from the medical community and hospital staff when it interferes with their regularly established procedures. FF EHS is trying to help parents stand up for themselves when hospital staff members resist, to guarantee that Kangaroo Care can be practiced by the mom in the hospital. FF EHS also encourages parents to be proactive talking to their medical providers before the day of delivery comes, so that they can be supported while in the hospital. FF EHS is helping parents educate medical providers they encounter who don’t know about it.

Kangaroo Care is good for everyone in the family and is not limited only to moms; dads and older siblings can hold the baby skin-to-skin as well with equally good results. "Heartbeat, breathing, smell, voice, all the things that a baby experiences in vitro, can be accessed while lying skin-to-skin on mom’s chest. That makes a baby’s transition so much easier. We believe this is an important piece in the birthing process and post partum." said Susan.

If you are also interested in Kangaroo Care and would like to join the conversation about it, to build a network in our area: call or email Susan Stiffler at sstiffler@forstorox.com or 412-771-2810 x 11.