Kangaroo Care: What Every NICU Parent Should Know

I’ll admit it. I have a pretty amazing job. I get to work with very small babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and their families, but in a way that most people would never expect.

You see, while almost everyone else in the unit is focused on breathing, heart rate, infection, physical growth, etc., I get to focus on who each baby will become. Amazing – right?

NICU babies, like all babies and all humans for that matter, are very complex; but that’s what makes them so phenomenal. There’s more to them than just their physical being. While they are getting healthy and growing in the NICU, they are also developing their social, emotional, language and thinking skills. It’s just all packaged in a much smaller human being.

I’ll bet you didn’t realize they were working so hard! That’s where kangaroo care comes in and why it’s so important for every NICU parent to know.

Kangaroo care is a method of holding babies skin-to-skin. The baby, wearing only a diaper, is held against the bare chest of their mom, dad or caregiver. This care was first used to keep babies warm in countries that did not have warmers or isolettes.

So why do we think it’s good for NICU babies to be in isolettes? At Nationwide Children’s, we don’t! We believe in taking care of the whole baby and that’s why we need the help of parents.

How will kangaroo care help my baby? Your baby may:

  • Stay warmer and have better heart and respiratory rates.
  • Cry less.
  • Have lower stress levels and gain weight.
  • Have a better bond with mom and dad.
  • Breastfeed better.
  • Sleep better, get more sleep, and use less energy.
  • Have better brain growth and development.

Let’s talk about the human brain. A human brain is a social brain. I do not know of any brain that has developed appropriately by isolating it from other people. In fact, the opposite holds true. The more we isolate people from human contact, the more dysfunctional their brains become.

The medical staff can’t provide kangaroo care. Only parents/caregivers can. Parents/caregivers are actually experts in giving kangaroo care. They just don’t realize it sometimes. When you kangaroo care NICU babies you are helping them work on “all that other stuff” of being a person. You are helping them work on who they will become.

And that is infinitely amazing.

To learn more about kangaroo care, click here.

Dr. Jenn Gonya is a NICU Developmental Specialist, Educational Psychologist, and Researcher in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Small Baby NICU (a unit dedicated to the care of extremely premature infants). Her passion lies in providing a voice for premature infants that people can hear, understand, and deeply appreciate.

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