Snuggling Your Newborn Against Your Skin Not Only Feels Good—It’s Doing Good

When it comes to what babies need after delivery, nothing’s better than love, comfort, nutrition, and warmth from the ones who love them most—mom and dad. Whether a baby is born full-term and ready to go home or premature and requiring care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), kangaroo care is just what the baby needs. In honor of International Kangaroo Care Awareness Day, we asked our expert neonatologist, Melissa Scala, MD, a member of our robust neonatology care team, to answer some common questions about kangaroo care for infants.

Q: What is kangaroo care?

Kangaroo care is holding your child skin-to-skin, without anything in between. It was named and discovered in the late 1970s in Columbia when a group of researchers found that premature babies who were held close for several hours a day didn’t succumb to the typical high death rates for babies born too early. Since then, kangaroo care, or skin-to-skin care, has been promoted around the world.

Q: What are the benefits of skin-to-skin time for my baby? 

The most obvious benefit is the bond that forms between you and your baby, promoting a lifelong attachment. Yet, the benefits are many. We know from research studies that infants who receive regular kangaroo care breathe better, sleep better, grow better, and stay warmer. Skin-to-skin time improves how an infant’s body regulates blood sugar, heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature. Babies who receive kangaroo care often experience more success at breastfeeding, and it even promotes the development of healthy bacteria that leads to lower infection rates. There’s even some indication that kangaroo care promotes better cardiovascular and neurodevelopmental outcomes in infants.

Q: How do I do kangaroo care?

Simply place your baby, who is naked except for a diaper, against your bared chest. Hold your baby upright, chest-to-chest. Relax and breathe normally. If you want, wrap a blanket or robe around the two of you with baby’s head peeking out to make a cozy pouch, just like with kangaroos. You can have skin-to-skin time for as long as you want with your baby. Doing it for a full hour at least once a day helps to settle infants into a good sleep cycle. 

Q: How can I give kangaroo care in the NICU with the incubator and wires? 

This is a common concern for parents. Fear of hurting their infant by holding them in the wrong way is the biggest barrier parents report to skin-to-skin care in the NICU. The truth is, almost every infant can participate in kangaroo care, even if they are very small and seem very sick, with a few exceptions. To help you feel comfortable with kangaroo care for your premature infant, our NICU nurses at Stanford Children’s Health follow a graded guideline to assess your baby’s readiness. NICU nurses can teach you how to safely lift your newborn and provide helpful tips, so please don’t skip kangaroo care out of worry. Studies show that skin-to-skin time reduces mortality, infection, illness, and possibly length of hospital stay in infants with low birth weights. Because kangaroo care helps to regulate your infant’s body rhythms and promotes sleep, you are helping your baby put his or her energy toward growing and gaining weight.   

Q: Is there science behind why it feels good to snuggle my baby?

Your intuition to hold your baby close against your skin is spot-on. Most parents view skin-to-skin time as a positive emotional experience that provides an avenue to bond with their baby. These feelings match what’s happening on a physiological level. Studies show that both parents experience a surge in oxytocin, the love hormone, during skin-to-skin time. Research also shows that mothers have a reduced risk for depression, and both parents have reduced stress and improved mental health. But that, you already knew!

Q: Is kangaroo care allowed at the hospital during the pandemic?

At Stanford Children’s Health, we have not restricted kangaroo care during the COVID-19 pandemic, because we believe it’s too important to forgo. Extended family exposure might be limited during a routine birth, and visiting restrictions might mean parents of an infant in the NICU have to take turns holding their baby, but it’s too beneficial for your bundle of joy to delay until you get home from the hospital. 

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One Response to “Snuggling Your Newborn Against Your Skin Not Only Feels Good—It’s Doing Good”

  1. Pamela Gaw

    Two and a half years ago my son was born at 28 weeks weighing just 1lb 15oz.
    As I lived on an island I was allocated accommodation in the hospital which meant that my son received more than 8hours of kangaroo care a day. I believe that this high volume of contact care aided his development significantly. Not only are there no signs of his prematurity now but his language and communication skills are excellent. He is an incredibly happy and secure toddler.

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