Post-Surgical Kangaroo Care for Babies in the NICU

One of the most profound moments of my life was the moment I held my son after he was first born. I smelled his skin, felt his hair and saw his eyes open to the world. In that moment I became a mother.

For many infants I care for in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) who need surgery, their parents never had this moment. Newborns with surgical diagnoses can be transported just minutes after birth and usually arrive in the NICU alone. Often, in the first few hours after birth, mom is left recovering at one hospital and dad finds himself frantically driving to another. On arrival to the NICU, invasive devices and monitors surround his new baby, the world of 21st century medicine standing between him and fatherhood.

In many ways, I see kangaroo care as a way for mothers and fathers to re-discover the moment in which they became a parent. Kangaroo care is a method of holding your baby with continuous skin-to-skin contact. The baby is naked except for a diaper and a piece of cloth covering his or her back, and is then placed in an upright position against a parent’s bare chest. Kangaroo care can be done on the first day in the hospital and can even be done after a baby has surgery.

Studies show that kangaroo care improves infant sleep, brain development and vital signs. Additionally, kangaroo care may:

  • Decrease pain
  • Decrease infection risk
  • Increase mom’s milk production
  • Helps babies go home sooner

At Nationwide Children’s Hospital, we discovered that many babies who had surgery did not receive kangaroo care. After discussing this finding, the surgeons, neonatologists, nurses and NICU staff all pitched in to make it easier to kangaroo surgery babies. While there are still a few types of procedures that prevent safe kangarooing, the Nationwide Children’s NICUs have gone to great lengths to reduce many of these barriers.

Today, we have a special protocol to ensure that intubated babies can kangaroo safely, even babies on the oscillating ventilator. Infants with new feeding tubes or surgical drains can also be kangarooed with proper positioning. In addition, nurses will provide a special garment to ensure the baby is secure and all IV’s and tubing are protected. If there are any questions about the safety of kangarooing a surgery baby, it is discussed with the medical team and family during daily multidisciplinary rounds.

When a baby needs an operation, it can be a stressful time for both parents. Kangarooing before and after surgery allows parents to reconnect with their babies and helps babies in the NICU recover faster.

For more information on Nationwide Children’s Neonatal Medicine Programs, click here.

Lorraine Kelley-Quon
Dr. Lorraine Kelley-Quon is a chief resident in pediatric surgery at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She obtained her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Cell Biology at the University of California, San Diego and completed her medical degree and general surgery training at the University of California, Los Angeles. During residency, she completed the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program and obtained a Master’s in Health Services Research from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Her research interests include identifying and eliminating health care disparities for children, optimizing pediatric surgical health care delivery and translating health services research into health policy.

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