Close skin-to-skin contact (or Kangaroo Mother Care) with parents gives babies a healthy start
Pictured is Cindy Ghashghaee with baby Darius in BC Women's Newborn ICU early 2015. "With all the tubes and equipment it was quite a task to move Darius into my arms, but it was after this first cuddle that he started to be more responsive. They knew Darius needed to be skin to skin with me."
Skin-to-skin in the Birthing Program
Kangaroo Care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
When you think of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), chances are you picture a tiny baby in an incubator attached to multiple drips and machines. Although babies in the NICU need the most technologically advanced care, they also benefit from long periods snuggled skin-to-skin with mom or dad.
Kangaroo care (skin-to-skin) is recommended by the Canadian Pediatric Society because of the measurable impact on sick babies. For example, it has been shown to help stabilize premature babies' vital signs, including heart rate and respirations. Kangaroo care also impacts their response to pain; helps them to sleep more deeply; and stimulates their brain and other neurological development. Babies can ultimately gain weight faster and go home sooner.
In more than 20 years' experience as a nurse in the NICU, Cheryl Podgornik has cared for hundreds of babies. She explains that one of the biggest benefits of kangaroo care is the ability to re-establish the bond between mom and baby, helping her to feel that she is contributing to the care for her newborn.
Wearing only a diaper, the baby is carefully positioned directly on mom's chest with an ear close to her heart. Baby gets the benefit of hearing her heartbeat and absorbing the warmth of her body.
For parents of multiples, more than one baby can receive skin-to-skin at the same time, reuniting siblings separated at birth to receive intensive care.
Podgornik explains that kangaroo care gives the baby an opportunity to rest, fostering growth and development. "If they are getting good deep sleeps, they are able to put their energy towards gaining weight."
For moms learning to breastfeed a sick baby or expressing breast milk, the skin-to-skin contact is also invaluable for decreasing their own stress and helping to boost milk production. Both parents benefit from additional bonding with the baby.
In the NICU, parents are encouraged to practice kangaroo care every day. The day's care is planned around the opportunity to get mom settled with the baby for an optimal period of one to four hours. It's not unusual to see partners coming in after work to have their own skin-to-skin time.
When you consider that the BC Women's NICU has the province's sickest babies, it's not surprising that many parents are nervous about touching or holding their baby for the first time, but kangaroo care reassures them. "As soon as they are able to do skin-to-skin, their whole outlook changes," Podgornik says. "You should see the faces of parents after they have done skin-to-skin, they are so peaceful and calm."
This article was written by Anne McLaughlin with information provided by BC Women's Labour + Delivery nurse Brianne Robb, and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse Cheryl Podgornik
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