Yesterday one of the New York Times blogs posted a great article about the power of Kangaroo Care - skin to skin care for preterm infants - titled The Human Incubator.
The babies stay warm, their own temperature reglated by the sympathetic biological responses that occur when mother and infant are in close physical contact. The mother’s breasts, in fact, heat up or cool down depending on what the baby needs. The upright position helps prevent reflux and apnea. Feeling the mother’s breathing and heartbeat helps the babies to stabilize their own heart and respiratory rates. They sleep more. They can breastfeed at will, and the constant contact encourages the mother to produce more milk. Babies breastfeed earlier and gain more weight.
The physical closeness encourages emotional closeness, which leads to lower rates of abandonment of premature infants. This was a serious problem among the patients of Rey’s hospital; without being able to hold and bond with their babies, some mothers had little attachment to counter their feelings of being overwhelmed with the burdens of having a preemie...
The hospitals were the third beneficiaries. Kangaroo care freed up incubators. Getting preemies home as soon as they were stable also lessened overcrowding and allowed nurses and doctors to concentrate on the patients who needed them most.
The article cites this study, which found that the survival rate went from 10% to 50% among very low birthweight babies in Zimbabwe when kangaroo care was used. Skin to skin is great for babies of any age.
I love the idea that one of the simplest and pleasurable things you can do to care for your baby can also be lifesaving. Off to snuggle mine.