By the early 1980’s the mortality rate of a premature infant in Bogota Colombia was about 70%. Many of these babies were dying from respiratory complications, infections and lack of the parental bonding. Out of necessity, mothers of premature babies were relied upon to hold these sick infants 24 hours a day tucking them under their clothes as if in a kangaroo’s pouch. Doctors started to noticed a significant drop in neonatal mortality. These babies were not only surviving but thriving. Babies born as early as ten weeks were going home within 24 hours pink, able to breathe on their own and suck! This is how “Kangaroo Care” evolved.
According to Dr. Susan Ludington “separation is not biologically normal.” She has been intimately involved with many research projects and has been most instrumental in introducing Kangaroo Care here in the US. She has helped many families with compromised infants.
Of course all infants benefit from the skin to skin contact of Kangaroo Care; but for some infants it could mean life or death. NICUs here in the US have adopted Kangaroo Care after seeing phenomenal results with babies given Kangaroo Care. Neonatal babies who are held in a mostly upright position, skin to skin against their parent’s chest for 2-3 hours per day have a more stable heart rate, regular breathing and improved O2 saturation levels.
So how does Kangaroo Care work? Believe it or not, a mother’s breasts naturally modulate in temperature to keep their babies at an optimal temperature. The maternal breast temperature can rise and fall as much a 2 degrees C in 2 min!
Researchers have gained much knowledge into what actually happens to a premature infant’s brain during skin to skin contact with their mothers. These babies have a difficult time coordinating their breathing and heart rate causing bradycardia and apnea. Their heart rate and breathing tend to be out of sync. Researchers found premature infants who were in skin to skin contact with their mothers synchronized their breathing and heart rates within 10 minutes, something that doesn’t typically happen in premature babies for about 4 weeks of brain development! With Kangaroo Care, apnea decreases four- fold and often disappears altogether. In some cases both problems disappear completely. When an infant is in rhythm, there is less crying or fussing meaning longer deeper sleep. Because crucial brain development happens when an infant is sleeping, longer sleep periods enable important neural synapse to occur. With more sleep, there is longer areas of alertness and because they are not burning excess calories from crying and fussing they gain weight faster.
All infants benefit from Kangaroo Care however in some instances infants who are premature, intrauterine growth retardation, low muscle tone or have disabilities, it can mean life or death. For parents who are interested in learning about the many benefits of Kangaroo Care, adding Dr. Ludington’s book “Kangaroo Care” to one’s library is a good first step.
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