Kangaroo Care Eases Newborns' Entry Into The World : Shots - Health News Holding a newborn on a parent's bare chest has long been used to help premature babies. Hospitals increasingly recommend it for full term babies, too. Doctors say it reduces pain and lowers stress.

Kangaroo Care Helps Preemies And Full Term Babies, Too

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Kangaroo mother care, it's a technique for mothers to bond with their newborns immediately after delivery. And the name kind of gives away what this is all about. Naked newborns are placed on their mother's bare chest, a little like a baby kangaroo in its mother pouch.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Aw, that sounds kind of sweet.

MARTIN: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Did you do that as a new mom?

MARTIN: I did.

INSKEEP: Of course.

MARTIN: In fact, I should note though, my husband did it, too.

INSKEEP: Oh, very nice - and people do encourage fathers to kind of bond with the child that way. This is common practice, especially for children who were born prematurely. And it's growing popular for healthy full-term babies, too. Here's NPR's Patti Neighmond.

SALMA SHABAIK: Do you want to say something?

ALI: (Cooing).

PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Salma Shabaik nuzzles her newborn little boy, Ali.

SHABAIK: Hello? I think you want to tell us that you just want to sleep (laughter).

NEIGHMOND: Ali was born just two weeks ago - 8 pounds, 3 ounces, 20 inches long - with a full head of shiny black hair. He was delivered at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where kangaroo mother care is routinely practiced.

SHABAIK: After he delivered. Immediately after, he was on my chest. Cleaning him off, like, rubbing him, all that happening while he was on my chest. I don't know if it was a pediatrician or a nurse practitioner, but whoever was examining the baby examined him also while he was on my chest - so listening with the stethoscope and looking at him and whatnot, everything happening while he was laying on my chest.

NEIGHMOND: Which was different than her firstborn son, who was whisked away to a warming crib and weighed, measured and examined there. He cried a lot, she says. But within seconds of being placed on her chest, Ali stopped crying.

SHABAIK: I loved it. It was really nice to kind of have baby right there with you, rather than watching, trying to see what they're doing, you know, from the bed. When he's right there and I could feel him and touch him and kiss him and all of that - so I think it just added more depth to the delivery.

NEIGHMOND: And there are clear physical benefits for the baby. UCLA OB-GYN, Dr. Lydia Lee.

LYDIA LEE: It improves body temperature, so the baby doesn't cool off. It seems to lower the heartrate of the baby, stabilize the blood pressure. They seem to cry less and not grimace as much.

NEIGHMOND: When babies receive kangaroo mother care, they're better able to breast-feed. And mothers tend to breast-feed for a longer period of time. All good, says Lee, because breast-feeding is well known to keep babies healthy and avoid illness.

At UCLA and at hospitals nationwide, Lee says there's another growing practice aimed at naturalizing the birth experience - delaying cutting the umbilical cord. After the baby is put on the mother's chest, the cord is left attached for about one minute.

LEE: And that allows some of the blood from the placenta to continue going to the baby. And that increases the iron store in the baby.

NEIGHMOND: Allowing not only iron but also other nutrients to continue flowing from mother to baby even after delivery. Pediatrician and researcher Dr. Larry Gray with the Comer Children's Hospital at University of Chicago Medicine did a study that shows kangaroo mother care also seems to mediate pain.

He looked at how babies respond to a heel prick to draw blood - a procedure to screen newborns for diseases that can be identified in the first day of life. Gray found babies cuddled with their mom in kangaroo care seemed to feel less pain.

LARRY GRAY: There was essentially no evidence of the rise in heartrate to suggest that the baby felt pain, compared to the babies who had been swaddled and had that blood procedure in their bassinets sort of alone.

NEIGHMOND: The first place to document how this technique works with premature babies was in Bogota, Colombia. In poor areas where there was no access to incubators and other high-tech equipment, preemies were often sent home with no expectation they would live. But doctors were surprised to see babies whose mothers carried them close, skin to skin, not only survived but thrived. Gray says one likely reason, so-called hidden regulators, which cement the attachment between mom and newborn.

GRAY: It's not just that the mother and the baby are being held together but that the mother in some ways is programming the baby - programming the baby's breathing, programming the baby's temperature, learning the baby's cues. And so there's some magic that happens.

NEIGHMOND: That magic can happen between a baby and a father too, he says, if there's skin-to-skin contact. Now, if mothers or babies are sick and need to be isolated, Gray says just take any opportunity you can to hold your infant skin to skin. Even a little bit of kangaroo mother care, he says, can help. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

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