“Kangaroo Care” is a term used to describe skin-to-skin contact with your baby. The research is clear! Skin-to-skin contact is incredible for both you and your baby. In your baby, it regulates breathing, blood pressure, reduces stress, increases weight-gain, regulates temperature, regulates blood sugar, increases their immune system, improves mental development, and more! For you, it reduces your risk of postpartum mood disorders, increases your milk supply, reduces stress, and improves your bond with your baby. It’s so important to participate in Kangaroo Care as often as possible both while your baby is in the NICU and after they come home! Let’s go over some tips and tricks to get the most out of your Kangaroo Care.
Skip the Perfume
It’s important to show up to the hospital clean and ready to hold your baby, but skip the scented soaps and perfumes. Your baby wants to smell your natural scent. Perfumes can irritate your baby’s delicate skin and reduce the benefits of skin-to-skin contact. Your baby recognizes the smell of your colostrum and milk. Your colostrum tastes and smells just like the amniotic fluid they’re used to. It’s comforting for them to recognize familiar smells. If you don’t have any unscented soaps on hand, washing with only water is ok. It may seem strange or gross for you to skip the soap, but soap is detrimental to your skin’s natural protective barrier and increases the chances of harmful pathogens infecting your skin.
Pump it up
During Kangaroo Care, your body will release oxytocin, the “love hormone” that is responsible for bonding and your milk ejection reflex. If you chose to breastfeed, during Kangaroo Care is an EXCELLENT time to pump! Before holding your baby, attach your pumps and get comfortable in your chair. Ask a nurse to help you bring your baby for you to hold. Place your baby in between your breasts and enjoy holding them close. If you feel a let-down (that tingly feeling in your breasts before milk comes out) or start leaking milk or colostrum, turn on your pump on the lowest setting that makes milk come out (you don’t need to go any higher than that). Sometimes, you may be able to enjoy Kangaroo Care for hours, so you can pump multiple times during a session. Breastmilk is safe to store at room temperature for up to 4 hours. If your containers are full before then or you hold your baby for longer, ask the nurse to bring you new ones. Skin-to-skin and frequent pumping are the most beneficial ways to increase/maintain your milk supply.
You may have had visions of rocking or patting your baby while you held them, but depending on the gestational age of your baby, that may be too much stimulation for them to handle. Holding a baby completely still may feel strange at first, but your baby is benefitting so much from your touch! If you’re unsure if it’s ok to rock and pat your baby, ask your care provider and they can help guide you on making your baby as comfortable as possible while being held. If you’re feeling disappointed you can’t rock your baby like you had planned, that may change as their brains mature, or you may find something else that makes you both feel good. You will learn to know your baby better than anyone else!
Not Just for Moms
Kangaroo Care isn’t just for the birthing parent! Both parents can benefit from enjoying Kangaroo Care! It’s really easy to feel distant from your baby while they’re in the NICU. Kangaroo Care can help remind you that they are yours and they need you. Both parents are important in the care and development of their babies. Both parents provide similar benefits for their baby and bonding during Kangaroo Care. The more skin-to-skin, the better!
If you want, it’s possible to hold your baby for HOURS! You’re going to get hungry and thirsty. Make sure to have easy-to-open snacks and water near your chair. That way hunger won’t get in the way of holding your baby. If you don’t want to hold them for that long, that’s ok, too. Any amount of Kangaroo Care is beneficial for them. If you’re busy, having snacks and water nearby can be a nice way for you to multitask to eat, rest, and hold your baby all at the same time!
Any feeling you have during Kangaroo Care is ok. Let yourself feel those feelings. Talk about them, embrace them. Releasing the emotions inside of you may feel scary, but once they’re out, they’re no longer taking you over and you can then begin the healing process. If you want to cry, cry. If you want to scream, head out to your car and scream. It’s all normal, and it’s all ok. Being in the NICU is NOT fun, and you’re allowed to be upset about it. Fear of hurting your baby is very normal, but remember, Kangaroo Care is extremely beneficial for them, and it will make them feel better!
This blog was written by Ashley Blankenship of Supported Season. We are forever grateful for the wisdom and love that Ashley brings to NICU life. Ashley is a Certified Doula, Postpartum Doula, Breastfeeding Counselor, and creator of Bump Up Birth, the virtual childbirth education course for your bump and beyond. She is a NICU survivor and mother of 3, passionate about educating preggos and parents everywhere!