Kangaroo Care II: Incorporating skin-to-skin contact into your babywearing routine
You may have heard that babywearing improves bonding or that babywearing makes your baby happier. Babywearing can facilitate positive physical, social, and emotional development.
What many may not know is that the majority of research demonstrating the countless benefits of babywearing is not measuring outcomes from simple once-a-day outings wearing your baby to the store or the park. Instead, the science of babywearing is mostly comprised of medical intervention studies investigating a specific form of baby carrying: skin-to-skin kangaroo care.
All babies can be kangaroo babies!
Because of the effectiveness of kangaroo care for low birth weight and preterm babies, skin-to-skin kangaroo care for full-term healthy babies does not have as much of a place in the spotlight. However, kangaroo care is much more than a medical intervention for at-risk babies. In fact, kangaroo care is an easy addition to your babywearing repertoire and almost all benefits are just as applicable to full-term healthy babies. Though much of the research has focused on outcomes for preterm or low birth weight infants (see Kangaroo Care Part I), studies with full-term infants have found that kangaroo care also facilitates more time in quiet sleep, decreased crying, lower levels of distress during painful procedures,and earlier development of social awareness among healthy, typically-developing infants.
And the kangaroo baby is not the only one that benefits. After participating in kangaroo care, mothers reported more breastfeeding success, positive feelings toward their child, and decreased likelihood of post-partum depression.
Give kangaroo care a try!
The consensus is clear: the benefits of skin-to-skin contact have been consistently proven with the highest standard of scientific research. Many of these same benefits likely extend to standard babywearing without direct skin-to-skin contact, but the overwhelming amount of data confirming the positive effects of skin-to-skin carrying may tempt you to give kangaroo care a try. So where to start?
The optimal positioning for post-natal skin-to-skin kangaroo care is with the baby placed upright on the caregiver’s naked chest with baby wearing only a diaper. Baby’s head should be turned and slightly tilted upright to ensure the airway remains open and unblocked (and visible!). Baby’s knees should be bent and legs open so that an M-shape is formed with baby’s feet, knees, and bottom.
Once in the proper position, the baby can be secured in place with a carrier, such that the fabric of the carrier is tight enough around the chest of the baby to keep them snug and secure, yet loose enough around baby’s abdomen to ensure that breathing is not inhibited.
Though traditional kangaroo care suggests securing your kangaroo baby with a simple woven or stretchy wrap, skin-to-skin carrying can be done with any of your favorite Tula carriers, including Baby Tula Wrap Conversion Ring Slings, Soft Structured Carriers, and Woven Wraps.
Kangaroo care benefits are not specific to mothers nor to women, so let baby’s other caregivers enjoy skin-to-skin carrying as well!
Note: When using kangaroo care as a medical treatment to care for a low birth weight or preterm infant, please seek professional medical advice. The information provided here is meant as a guide for healthy typically-developing infants only, and it is still recommended that you seek professional guidance from a babywearing educator –especially when wrapping newborns – to ensure that your baby is wrapped safely.
This Guest Blog was written by Emily E. Little, M.A.
Emily is a doctoral candidate in developmental psychology at University of California, San Diego. Her dissertation research examines the social mechanisms underlying the benefits of babywearing, including how increased mother-infant physical contact facilitates higher maternal responsiveness. Her research program more broadly investigates culturally-mediated mother-infant communication, and she has collected data on early teaching in Vanuatu, infant emotional displays in Bolivia, and breastfeeding patterns in Guatemala. She is also specializing in anthropogeny, or the study of human origins, through UCSD’s Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA), which has added an evolutionary perspective to her interests in culture, mother-infant interaction, and babywearing. She is passionate about making a positive contribution in the communities where she works, not just in San Diego – where she volunteers as a Volunteer Babywearing Educator in training with Babywearing International – but also at her international fieldsites, where she volunteers at community health centers and raises money for maternal and infant health services.
1 Ferber, S. G., & Makhoul, I. R. (2004). The Effect of Skin-to-Skin Contact (Kangaroo Care) Shortly After Birth on the Neurobehavioral Responses of the Term Newborn: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. PEDIATRICS, 113(4), 858-865. doi:10.1542/peds.113.4.858
2 Christensson, K., Siles, C., Moreno, L., Belaustequi, A., De La Fuente, P., Lagercrantz, H., … Winberg, J. (1992). Temperature, metabolic adaptation and crying in healthy full-term newborns cared for skin-to-skin or in a cot. Acta Paediatrica, 81(6-7), 488-493. doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.1992.tb12280.x
3 Gray, L., Watt, L., & Blass, E. M. (2000). Skin-to-Skin Contact Is Analgesic in Healthy Newborns. PEDIATRICS, 105(1), e14-e14. doi:10.1542/peds.105.1.e14
4 Bigelow, A. E., & Power, M. (2012). The effect of mother–infant skin-to-skin contact on infants’ response to the Still Face Task from newborn to three months of age. Infant Behavior and Development, 35(2), 240-251. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2011.12.008
5 Bier, J. B. (1996). Comparison of Skin-to-Skin Contact With Standard Contact in Low-Birth-Weight Infants Who Are Breast-Fed. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, 150(12), 1265. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1996.02170370043006v
6 Tessier, R., Cristo, M., Velez, S., Giron, M., Ruiz-Palaez, J. G., Charpak, Y., & Charpak, N. (1998). Kangaroo Mother Care and the Bonding Hypothesis. PEDIATRICS, 102(2), e17-e17. doi:10.1542/peds.102.2.e17
7 De Alencar, A. E., Arraes, L. C., De Albuquerque, E. C., & Alves, J. G. (2007). Effect of Kangaroo Mother Care on Postpartum Depression. Journal of Tropical Pediatrics, 55(1), 36-38. doi:10.1093/tropej/fmn083
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