Kangaroo Care: The Importance of a Mother's Touch

Skin-to-skin contact proves to have dramatic positive effects on preemies and full-term babies.

Mothering Like a Marsupial

Teary Eyed Baby Against Dad's Chest

Krisanne delivered Kaia Michelle at 24 weeks at 1 pound, 12 ounces. Immediately, Krisanne was separated from her daughter, who was taken an hour away to a special neonatal unit.

The next time Krisanne saw her baby, Kaia was hooked up to monitors and breathing tubes. Krisanne was terrified to hold her, but the nurses encouraged it. Krisanne was instructed to remove her shirt and bra, and the nurses then placed Kaia in her arms.

Krisanne watched Kaia squirm but to Krisanne's astonishment, Kaia fell into a deep, peaceful sleep. "She made me feel like a mom for the first time. I knew at that moment she was going to live," she says.

Lifesaving Efforts

The skin-to-skin contact Krisanne gave her daughter was first used in 1979 in Bogota, Colombia, in neonatal wards that had a shortage of incubators for babies with severe hospital infections. Neonatologists Edgar Rey and Hector Martinez turned to nature -- specifically kangaroos, which hold their young as soon as they are born.

They sent mothers home with the instruction to hold their infants diapered but bare-chested between their breasts in an upright position as often as possible, feeding them only breast milk.

What the doctors -- who coined the term "Kangaroo Care" -- found was that this skin-to-skin contact not only allowed mothers to leave the hospitals (which decreased overcrowding) but it also decreased their babies' dependency on incubators. And the most astounding? The doctors watched as mortality rates plunged from 70 percent to 30 percent.

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