Premature birth is a scary thing, and it’s natural for parents to feel stressed and overwhelmed. One of the ways to help your little preemie to grow big and strong is Kangaroo Care. Kangaroo care is a form of developmental care that has benefits for all newborns, especially little preemies. It involves direct contact when a newborn is placed on a mom or dad's skin.
Daily skin-to-skin contact helps your preemie grow and develop, while in the NICU, as well as at home. Kangaroo care strengthens the bond between you and your preemie and provides a feeling of safety, contentment, and comfort with one another.
Kangaroo Care in the NICU
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) can be a scary place for you and your new baby, and Kangaroo care helps reduce stress for both you and your baby.
Your preemie has a unique personality as well as his or her own ways of reacting to life outside the incubator. When you're with your baby, observe her pleasure or discomfort at certain sounds, sights, touches, movements, tastes, or smells.
Touching and holding is an important part of caring for your baby while they are in the NICU. It helps keep them warm, and is good for their heart rate and breathing. Some preemies can start kangaroo care soon after birth, but some babies may need to wait. You can still connect with your baby in other ways while in the NICU, just ask your baby’s health provider which ways are best for you and your baby.
More Ways to Bond with Your Infant in the NICU
Observe your baby's cues: For example, arching of the back is a sign your infant is uncomfortable somehow. Experiment to find out what soothes your infant - for example cupping her head and feet with your hands. When she turns toward you, make and hold eye contact, use a gentle voice – or both!
Relax and Breathe Deep: Give yourself permission to relax and take a moment to enjoy this special bonding time with your baby. While it's normal to feel anxious in the NICU, deep breathing will not only relax you, but it is soothing to your baby as well.
Avoid overwhelming stimulation: If your baby is especially sensitive to light, sound, or touch, ask the NICU staff to dim the overhead lights, turn down the monitors, and do what your baby finds soothing. Put a sign on her incubator to remind healthcare providers to keep these sensitivities in mind.
Create a calming space: Hospitals aren't known to be cozy places, so, work with the NICU staff to try to make it feel a little bit more homey. Ask the medical staff if you can place family photos or small toys around the incubator. You also may be able to put in a cloth with your scent to remind your baby of you when you're away. Always be sure to check with NICU staff before placing anything next to or near your infant!
Taking your Preemie Home
Feeding, preventing illness, safety, and general baby care are all a little different for a premature infant, so taking them home can be a little more stressful. Skin-to-skin contact helps parents feel needed and connected to their baby, which melts away stress and leaves them feeling more fulfilled and empowered. There are several bonding opportunities doing everyday things, like during feeding, bath time, or snuggles at night.
Dad can —and should— give Kangaroo care too! A preemie baby needs stabilizing skin-to-skin contact even more than a full term infant, so both moms and dads can take turns of holding your new bundle of joy! It is just as important for Dad to bond with your new baby as it is for Mom. This is only the beginning of a deep relationship for all of you!
Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact
The placement of a premature infant directly on the mother's skin right after birth provides a safe place for baby to be welcomed into the world! Here are some additional benefits of Kangaroo care:
· Helps regulate the baby’s heart rate, breathing, and body temperature
· Helps calm the baby
· Better sleep for the baby
· Promotes brain development
· Boosts immune system and weight gain
· Strengthens the bond between parents and baby
Skin-to-skin contact helps reduce some of the more common health problems preemies face, as well as helping to improve your baby's development. It may even help both you and your partner alleviate some of the worry by making you feel more closely bonded with your new addition.
Have you had a child in the NICU? How did you bond with your little one during this time?