Holding your baby in your arms for the first time is one of the most special moments for a new parent—and you’ll no doubt never want to let go. Skin-to-skin contact between mum and baby is hugely important for bonding and can also help with premature baby feeding by encouraging easy access to breastfeeding. But what if your baby arrived earlier than planned? If your baby was born preterm (before 37 weeks) or has a low birth weight (less than 2500g), then the first few days and weeks after birth may not be what you had in mind. This is because premature babies normally have to stay in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), under special treatment, sometimes for as long as several weeks or even months. This can be an extremely stressful and emotional period for parents as you worry about your baby’s health and may feel you’re missing out on precious time spent getting to know your newborn.
1. What is kangaroo care?
Kangaroo care is a way of holding your premature baby skin-to-skin on your chest. Similar to how kangaroos carry their babies in their pouch, you put your naked baby (except nappy) on your bare breast with a cover on top. Kangaroo care was developed in South America to keep premature babies warm when they didn’t have access to incubators. The method brings many additional health benefits and is recommended particularly if your baby was born early or has a low birth weight. It is also a great way of bonding with your premmie, especially if they are having to spend a lot of time in an incubator. Depending on how you and your little hero are feeling, you may want to spend several hours a day kangarooing. Ask the NICU nurses when you can start this. They will also be able to help you get your baby out of the incubator and handle the tubes in the early days.
2. How kangaroo care benefits your little hero
Using the kangaroo hold so you can have skin-to-skin contact with your preterm baby is a special, sensory experience bringing many benefits through touch, sound, and smell—for both parent and child.
Baby feels the warmth of being held skin-to-skin
Benefit: This can help to keep your premature baby at a stable temperature and is great for parent-child bonding.
- Try: Resting your naked baby (expect nappy) tummy-down on your bare chest and pull a blanket up or tie your bathrobe over the top to keep you both warm and snuggly.
Baby smells your scent
Benefit: Babies who receive kangaroo care are more likely to breastfeed as they are close to your breasts and will be able to smell your milk. This is the best nutrition you can offer your little hero to help them grow.
- Try: Ditching your perfume—baby likes your natural smell. Don’t forget to take off your bra so your premmie can nuzzle in for a feed whenever they feel hungry, or practice sucking your nipples if they aren’t quite there yet.
Baby hears your voice
Benefit: The sound of your voice is comforting and helps baby to drift off and sleep for longer—just as it did in the womb.
- Try: Singing, talking or reading aloud to your little one—it could be those new baby cards you probably haven’t had a chance to open yet or your to-do list for the day. Anything goes!
Baby hears your heartbeat
Benefit: This can help to regulate breathing and slow their heartbeat, making them more relaxed and ready for sleep.
- Try: Getting comfy and making sure you have essentials like a drink of water, some healthy snacks, and your phone within easy reach so you can enjoy the special time together and not have to get up.
You feel baby close to you
Benefit: Parents feel empowered that they can do something positive for their premature baby wherever they are.
- Try: Experimenting with a baby carrier so you can enjoy skin-to-skin contact while you have your hands free to do other things. Your healthcare professional (HCP) will be able to advise on when your baby is big enough.
Premature baby feeding tips
Breast milk is the best form of nutrition for your preterm baby. It is rich in nutrients that will help your baby to grow as well as immunity-boosting antibodies that may help to protect them from infections. Because your premature baby’s gut is immature, it is the easiest food for your baby to digest. Preterm babies need more energy, protein, certain fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals than full-term babies. Your healthcare professional will advise you if your breastmilk needs to be enriched or fortified in order to meet these specific nutrient requirements.
Premature baby breastfeeding
Breastfeeding also helps you to bond with your premmie and get regular skin-to-skin contact, however sometimes this isn’t possible right from the beginning as preterm babies aren’t always strong enough to suckle from the breast straight away, and sometimes your breastmilk has not come in yet. This can be an incredibly emotional time for new mums, but your nurse, midwife or a lactation consultant should be able to guide and support you through this. Don’t worry if your milk doesn’t come in instantly, sometimes it can take a while.
Putting your baby on your chest for regular skin-to-skin kangaroo care can help to stimulate your supply. Letting your baby practice sucking your nipples when they’re in the kangaroo hold can also help your baby to start breastfeeding when they’re ready. Don’t forget to get plenty of food, water, and rest if you can, and keep trying to express every few hours. Find out more on how to pump your breastmilk in this article. Be patient and trust your body—you’ve got this!
Dad and baby skin-to-skin time
Kangaroo care isn’t just for mums! They may not be able to breastfeed, but dads and other family members can still do the kangaroo hold and enjoy special skin-to-skin time with baby. It’s reassuring for your little one to get into a kangarooing rhythm as early as possible, so chat to your healthcare provider about establishing a routine.