Meta description: Life imitates nature—that is exactly what happened when two Colombian researchers, Edgar Rey Sanabria and Héctor Martínez-Goméz, decided to take inspiration from kangaroos and invent skin to skin contact between newborns and mothers in 1979. Kangaroo care can, according to various research studies, have long-lasting benefits on the physical and neurological development of children both in the neonatal and postnatal periods. Apart from regulating body temperature, oxygen levels, heart rate and blood sugar to promote better gut health, weight gain—skin to skin benefits both full-term and preterm babies. Kangaroo mother care is extremely helpful in making the mother feel more comfortable and confident as well, reducing the risks of postpartum depression and anxiety. Popular in India as in the West, this procedure is an effective medium of parent-child bonding.
Dek: The power of a mother’s touch can do wonders for the well-being of a newborn. Read how kangaroo care or skin to skin benefits can begin at the delivery room and last for a lifetime.
The whole process of labour and delivery is a drastic transition for a baby from the comfort and security of the womb. To make the transition easier, Colombian neonatologists Edgar Rey Sanabria and Dr. Héctor Martínez-Goméz taught new mothers to practice skin to skin contact with newborns in 1979—due to a shortage of incubators at the hospital for babies with infections. This technique is also known as kangaroo care or kangaroo mother care, taking after the marsupial’s tendency to carry its baby in its pouch for months after birth.
First performed immediately after delivery, skin to skin contact (SSC) has extensive benefits for both preterm and full term babies, research suggests. Smita Srivastava et al have concluded in their 2014 paper for the Indian Journal of Public Health that “very early SSC is an effective intervention that improves baby’s suckling competence, maternal satisfaction, breastfeeding rates and temperature control and weight patterns.”
According to obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr. Anuradha Panda of Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad, though Western patients are more particular about kangaroo mother care, it is very common and widespread in India as well. The baby is placed on the mother’s breasts directly with no clothing and then covered with blankets or towels. Babies need to be handled with utmost hygiene, so it is important for the mother to wash her hands. This relaxing session is crucial for the baby’s long-term physical and emotional health. It can last for one or two hours and can be continued at home as well.
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Benefits of skin to skin contact
1. Regulates the baby’s vitals: “The primary benefit of kangaroo care is regulating the baby’s body temperature through the warmth of the mother’s body,” says Dr. Panda. Since newborns do not know how to balance their core temperature, the mother can help in its thermoregulation. Not just that, the mother’s stable cardio-respiratory functions can also help balance the baby’s heart rate, oxygen saturation and breathing patterns, suggests a review published in the Cochrane Database.
2. Stimulates breastfeeding: Another important effect of skin to skin is encouraging lactation and breastfeeding. A 2016 study published in the Trials journal found that “human lactancy is a simple and cost-effective strategy that influences infant and maternal mortality rates. Skin-to-skin contact (SSC) is an immediate postpartum period strategy that has proven to benefit the initiation and continuation of human lactation and to decrease hospitalization during the first week of life”. Dr. Panda further adds, “Mother’s milk also helps maintain the baby’s blood sugar levels.” Healthy blood sugar provides the baby enough glucose (energy) to survive.
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3. Relaxes baby and mother: “Kangaroo mother care is an easy and effective way to boost both the baby and the mother’s mental health by releasing oxytocin (the happy hormone)—making them feel comfortable, confident and relaxed,” says Dr. Panda. It facilitates better mother-baby communication and reduces chances of postpartum depression and anxiety, according to MCN: The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing. In fact, fathers can bond better with the baby through cuddling as well.
4. Promotes baby’s weight gain: A 2011 Cochrane review says that “low birthweight (less than 2500 g) is associated with an increased risk of neonatal morbidity and mortality, neurodevelopmental disabilities, and cardiovascular disease at adulthood”. When the baby’s body temperature is regulated due to skin to skin, therefore, it doesn’t need to use extra energy to keep itself warm. That energy can actually be used for its growth instead. Paired with proper feeding sessions, this can really help the baby gain weight after birth.
5. Boosts preterm babies’ immunity: “Kangaroo care immediately after birth is more common for healthy full-term babies,” reveals Dr. Panda, “as preterm babies or babies with health issues need to be sent to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) first. After being discharged, however, preterm babies actually need more warmth—that’s where skin to skin comes in handy.” A 2012 Pediatrics Child Health study explains that ” a preterm birth is believed to disrupt the neonate’s smooth and integrated neurobehavioural development,” resulting in disturbances in physiological functioning, stress and behaviour. Kangaroo care can not only help these babies regulate their temperature and breathing it also helps them with better sleep and long-term neurodevelopment. According to the International Breastfeeding Centre, Canada, exposure to the mother’s skin and milk aids the baby to develop healthy bacteria, which prevents allergic diseases, harmful pathogens and promotes digestion—all of which is of paramount importance in a preterm baby’s growth.
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