Kangaroo care helps fragile premature babies survive, sleep better, develop protection against allergies and infection by being exposed to friendly bacteria, regulate breathing, temperature and heart rate. When it’s done with the mother, it supports breastfeeding, and helps babies bond better.
Some kangaroo care experts reckon that during the last six weeks of pregnancy, babies sleep for 20-22 hours of the day. However, in bright, noisy environment of the NICU they may spend less than two hours in really deep sleep. This has a big impact on their growth. In kangaroo care however, infants typically sleep more deeply and gain weight better than non-kangaroo care babies.
Brand new research shows that 20 years down the line, prem babies held in kangaroo care and less aggressive, less hyper active, less anti-social and have less truancy. There is evidence that full term babies benefit too; they feel less pain when they are held in kangaroo care. So as evidence for the benefits of kangaroo care mounts, I think we need to be asking, could volunteers, or specially trained nurses do skin-to-skin contact with babies?
It’s a question raised in my new novel, Open My Eyes, That I may See Marvellous Things
I volunteered in hospitals, including special care wards in Addis Ababa for four years. Kangaroo care is rare, and babies whose mothers are sick, who have died or been abandoned are kept in incubators; just like many wards in the UK, they get little touch beyond feeding, nappy changing and painful procedures like cannula changes.
I’d only recently weaned my second daughter, and the instinct to hold these babies was overwhelming; they were so alone, so cut off from human contact. Holding them in skin-to-skin was professionally off-limits, but my novel is a response to that very primitive urge. It tells the story of a midwife who embarks on a project to protect an abandoned premature baby by doing kangaroo care. It asks the question, ‘how can you hold a baby next to your skin, without it touching your heart?’