Kangaroo Care; Interventions for Premature Babies
Premature births are never what any mum wants for their child. They are not what you’ve planned, or what you’ve dreamed of. After months of pregnancy you just want to get through labour and take your sweet little child home as a family, not watch them be whisked away for tests and incubation.
Premature birth is tough. It isn’t the ideal way to start parenthood. But the trick is to make the most of the experience and help to give your family the best start it can despite the circumstances.
Wanting to spend every second of your time with your new born baby is pretty normal; you’ve waited 9 months for this little bundle of joy. However, with premature infants this isn’t always possible.
Some Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) will have space for parents to temporarily live in, but not all of them do. It is hard knowing that you can’t be there for every second of the day. However, your baby is under the care of the safest and most well prepared baby-sitting service in the world. Rest well in that knowledge. You will be of much more use to them during the day if you sleep well at night; you will soon get into a good habit of visiting your baby and it will help you make the most of your time with them.
At first you may only be allowed to stroke your baby while in the incubator – but this wont always be the case. When you can, the doctors will allow you to hold your baby, and let you help with daily tasks like cleaning and nappy changing.
This is where kangaroo care comes in. It sounds silly, yes, but is based on the way animals bond with their infants – skin-to-skin. It was developed in Bogota, Colombia, when, due to a shortage of incubators, doctors needed to improvise to give premature babies the warmth they needed to survive.
Kangaroo care involves holding your baby against your bare chest for an hour or two every day. It’s simple really, but it can have a huge impact on your childs’ functioning.
In their recent study, Feldman, Rosenthal and Eidelman (2014) compared the short term and long term effects of kangaroo care with a matched control group. It has been discovered that this type of premature parent-infant bonding can have physiological and psychological improvements for the child, however the long term effects of this have never before been investigated.
It was found that this skin-to-skin contact led to:
- increased sensitivity in mothers; more maternal
- reduced maternal anxiety
- enhanced cognitive and executive functioning for the child
- increased autonomic functioning – respiratory sinus arrhythmia, RSA
- more organised sleeping patterns
- lower stress response
More remarkable than that; these effects could still be seen ten years later. The children in this study still showed signs of improved physiology, executive functions and mother-child reciprocity at ten years of age.
In their study, Feldman et al highlight the importance of maternal contact for infants. While their investigation only used premature babies, it is certainly an indicator of how maternal contact and care can positively influence a childs’ life. All new parents are encouraged to spend as much time as possible in close contact with their child; the long term impact is immeasurable.
Your baby is a fighter.
It is important to know that your child is a fighter. From day one your baby has had to learn to do everything herself. You will be so proud when your child can breathe on her own, and even when she manages to complete a feeding. Premature babies are strong; learning each day how to be stronger in order to survive. And you will love them so much more because of this.
Written by: Philippa Berry
Link to Feldman et al (2014)