When you’re new to premature birth, everything is scary. Just looking at your preemie (and all their medical accessories) can be frightening. And the thought of holding a preemie? Terrifying! But at the same time, most new parents are desperate to hold their babies because they instinctively know that physical contact is a vital part of bonding.
You probably know that the first time a NICU nurse hands you your preemie can be a transformative experience for your baby. Kangaroo care (holding a preemie skin to skin) is especially beneficial for preterm infants.
What you might not know is that holding a preemie can change parents’ lives, too! Here are just some of the ways kangaroo care is beneficial for moms and dads:
Kangaroo care can give you a sense of control over your circumstances. Studies show that moms are able to regulate a preemie’s temperature BETTER than an incubator and that preterm infants who receive kangaroo care have more regular heartbeats. Parents who may otherwise feel powerless when it comes to their preemies’ health can regain some semblance of control by practicing kangaroo care. While doctors and nurses administer lifesaving medications and treatments, parents can give their preterm infants lifesaving cuddles!
Kangaroo care helps you get to know your preemie. You might have heard someone say that you know your preemie best, but it doesn’t always feel that way. In fact, if you’ve given birth to a micropreemie or have a very ill baby you may feel like your preemie’s doctors and nurses know them better than you do. Practicing frequent kangaroo care gives you a chance to learn your preemie’s likes and dislikes, their habits and quirks, their patterns, and their normal. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll be able to see when things are off.
Kangaroo care can make you a more confident caregiver. Practicing kangaroo care with your preemie gives you a chance to see that you are not only capable of, but actually amazing at soothing your baby. Your very presence is medically beneficial to them! So when it comes time to make the transition home, you’ll already know how much you’re capable of when it comes to helping your preemie grow and thrive.
Kangaroo care helps moms make more milk. Spending time skin to skin with your preterm infant can stimulate milk production hormones, making it easier to pump milk for your preemie and to breastfeed, if that’s something you plan to try. Preemies who are kangaroo’ed may also have an easier time breastfeeding when they’re ready.
Kangaroo care may reduce rates of postpartum depression. Preemie parents are already more likely to develop depression and anxiety but various studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact can decrease maternal anxiety, promote attachment, and reactive pathways in the brain associated with mental and emotional health.
Kangaroo care helps dads bond with their preemies. Fathers can feel like interlopers in the NICU because at least mothers can do something constructive for preterm infants like pumping or breastfeeding. But since almost all of the ways preemies benefit from kangaroo care apply whether it’s mom or dad holding them, fathers are given a chance to do something concrete for their babies’ health and development.
Kangaroo care helps moms and dads feel like parents. The NICU can be a scary place and a place that almost never seems homey. Caring for a preemie among the beeps of machines and the wires and the chaos of other babies’ needs can feel otherworldly. The time you spend practicing kangaroo care with your preemie may be an oasis of calm in the chaos and your very first taste of quality time.
In short, unless your baby is too sick for kangaroo care, there are so many reasons to make time for this lifesaving type of cuddle. Preemies on ventilators can benefit from it. Micropreemies can benefit from it. Even later term preemie babies benefit from kangaroo care. And when you factor in how parents (and NICUs) benefit from kangaroo care? It really is good for everyone!