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What is kangaroo care?

5-minute read

Kangaroo care, otherwise known as skin-to-skin care, is a way that parents can hold their baby directly against their bare skin. It encourages bonding with your baby and helps support their emotional and physical development. Both a mother and their partner – as well as the baby – can benefit from kangaroo care.

What is kangaroo care?

Kangaroo care is when you hold your baby to your bare chest so your baby has direct skin-to-skin contact with you. The baby is held upright with their head to one side between the mother’s breasts or against the partner’s chest. One hand should support the baby’s head and the other over their bottom. Often, a blanket is placed over the top of the baby to help keep them warm.

When is kangaroo care used?

Many maternity hospitals encourage skin-to-skin contact straight after birth if the baby and mother are both stable. Kangaroo care can be given to babies who are full term, but it’s usually provided to babies who are premature and being cared for in a neonatal intensive care or special care unit.

Even babies who need breathing support and are on a ventilator receiving oxygen, can have kangaroo care. Ideally, kangaroo care happens straight after birth or within the first few days of birth.

Maternity care providers generally recommend that parents practise kangaroo care as soon and as frequently as possible, and for as long as the baby is well and stable. Babies of any age benefit from kangaroo care, but particularly in the time they’re being cared for in hospital.

How do babies benefit from kangaroo care?

Kangaroo care has a range of benefits and can:

  • regulates a baby's heartbeat and breathing
  • increases a baby’s weight gain and decreases the risk of mortality — this is especially important for premature babies
  • improve oxygen saturation levels
  • help to maintain body temperature
  • supports longer periods of quiet, calm sleep
  • help a baby access their mother’s breasts so breastfeeding is easier
  • decrease a baby's perception of pain and reduce stress and crying — kangaroo care before heel prick blood collections and injections has been shown to reduce pain and distress for a baby

How do parents benefit from kangaroo care

Kangaroo care provides parents with many benefits, particularly in:

  • boosting the bonding process and emotional attachment
  • building confidence in handling their baby
  • supporting early breastfeeding and milk production
  • helping to support the baby’s brain development

What are the benefits of kangaroo care to partners?

Connection is the key benefit for partners. Skin-to-skin contact helps build an emotional connection and ease the sense of separation as well as boosting confidence in handling their baby.

Will hospital staff support me in providing kangaroo care?

Most maternity hospital staff are mindful of the benefits of kangaroo care and will do all they can to support you. If your baby’s condition is not stable or they are unwell and need to stay in their humidicrib so they can be more carefully monitored, it won’t be the right time for kangaroo care.

Planning kangaroo care around your baby’s other care needs and feeding times will help you both to get the most out of this special time of connection.

Sometimes the nursery will be busy and perhaps the staff aren’t able to support you. It will help to let them know that you’re keen to hold your baby as often as possible.

Ways to prepare for kangaroo care

It’s important that you are mindful and ‘present’ when you’re providing kangaroo care:

  1. Pick a time when you aren’t in a rush and can focus on the joy of holding your baby.
  2. Wear a shirt which easily opens down the front, or wear a front-opening hospital gown.
  3. It helps for a mother to remove her bra so the baby has free access to her breasts.
  4. Have a pillow or two for support - and make sure you have a blanket to place over your baby.
  5. Have tape handy to secure any tubing connected to your baby.
  6. Avoid using any strong perfumes, body wash or powders. It’s important your baby can smell you.
  7. Sit in a comfortable chair with arm rests and a high, supportive back. Ask for a footrest if you want one.
  8. Go to the toilet beforehand, have a drink beside you and focus on your own comfort as well.
  9. Speak gently to your baby as they’re transferred from their cot and tell them what’s happening.
  10. Be sensitive to your baby’s cues or signals - this will help you understand their feelings.

Checking your baby is ready for kangaroo care

Pick a time when you’ll both get the most benefit:

  • Check with the staff before taking your baby out of their humidicrib. It’s important your baby is stable, particularly if they are ventilated and their oxygen levels are being monitored.
  • You may need to wait until 2 staff are available to help you transfer your baby out of their humidicrib. You’ll need assistance transferring your baby to make sure any lines from your baby can reach you and the chair.
  • Ask the staff to make sure all tubing, alarms and pumps are working as they need to.
  • Take your baby’s clothing off so they’re only wearing a nappy.
  • You may need to put a cap on your baby’s head to help them maintain their body temperature.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2020

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This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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