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'Kangaroo care’ benefits preemies’ development

Friday July 19, 2013
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The skin-to-skin and chest-to-chest touching between baby and mother, known as "kangaroo care," offers developmentally appropriate therapy for hospitalized preterm infants, according to recent research.

In the article, published in the June issue of the Journal of Newborn & Infant Nursing Reviews, Susan Ludington-Hoe, RN, PhD, CNM, FAAN, from Case Western Reserve University’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing in Cleveland, describes how the practice delivers benefits beyond bonding and breast-feeding for a hospital’s tiniest newborns.

"[Kangaroo care] is now considered an essential therapy to promote growth and development of premature infants and their brain development," Ludington-Hoe said in a news release.

But the practice is not widely promoted by hospitals even though its benefits are known, she said.

Hospitals can incorporate features of the therapy by modifying NICUs to make them calming places, positioning babies to promote physical and motor development, decreasing how much babies are handled to reduce their stress, improving wake-sleep cycles and promoting a newborn’s ability to stabilize important functions such as heartbeat and synchronize physiologic functions with the mother’s for optimal development, Ludington-Hoe said in the release.

Kangaroo care for preemies involves the mother nestling the baby on her chest for at least one hour at a time and ideally for 22 hours a day for the first six weeks, and about eight hours a day for the next year, according to the release.

In Scandinavia and the Netherlands, kangaroo care is practiced widely, according to Ludington-Hoe, and families make arrangements so the infant is always in maternal or paternal kangaroo care while hospitalized.

Ludington-Hoe reports this approach is standard care in Scandinavia and Germany, where many preemies leave the hospital about three weeks earlier than in the U.S. Kangaroo care also is used in those countries after normal births and continues for three months, she added.

Ludington-Hoe also found babies respond more positively to their mothers than to nurses, and experience less pain and stress when receiving some medical procedures while in their mothers’ arms; and infant’s brains mature faster and have better connectivity if they have received kangaroo care.

Preemies held by their mothers in a prone position for an extended time tend to sleep better, which helps brain development, according to Ludington-Hoe. Her research also found infants adjust their heartbeats and body temperatures to their mother’s and absorb immune benefits from their mother’s skin.

Ludington-Hoe is the author of the book “Kangaroo Care: The Best You Can Do to Help Your Preterm Infant.”

Study abstract: www.nainr.com/article/S1527-3369%2813%2900027-5/abstract.


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