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What is kangaroo care?

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Kangaroo care is when you hold your newborn baby against your bare chest — it’s also known as skin-to-skin care.
  • It encourages bonding with your baby and helps support breastfeeding and emotional and physical development.
  • Both parents and babies can benefit from kangaroo care.
  • Kangaroo care can be given to babies in hospital or at home.
  • It can be used in babies who are unwell and being cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or special care nursery (SCN).

What is kangaroo care?

Kangaroo care is when you hold your baby to your bare chest. Your baby should be wearing just a nappy and maybe also a hat. This allows your baby to have skin-to-skin contact with you.

You can hold your baby upright with their head to one side. One hand should support your baby’s head and the other is placed over their bottom. You can also hold them in a side lying position.

Once you are holding your baby skin-to-skin, your clothes or a blanket are wrapped around your baby in a kangaroo-like pouch. This helps to keep them warm.

During skin-to-skin care, you can use a mirror to see your baby’s face.

When is kangaroo care used?

Many maternity hospitals encourage skin-to-skin contact straight after birth if both the baby and mother are well.

Kangaroo care can be given to babies who are full term, either in hospital or at home. It can also be used in babies who are premature or unwell and being cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or special care nursery (SCN).

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

Maternity care providers generally recommend that parents practise kangaroo care as soon and as frequently as possible. However, babies of any age benefit from kangaroo care.

How do babies benefit from kangaroo care?

Kangaroo care has a range of benefits. It can:

  • help regulate your baby's heartbeat and breathing
  • improve your baby’s weight gain
  • reduce your baby’s risk of infection
  • improve your baby’s oxygen levels
  • help your baby maintain their body temperature
  • support longer periods of quiet, calm sleep
  • help your baby access their mother’s breasts so breastfeeding is easier
  • help to support your baby’s brain development

Can kangaroo care help relieve pain in babies?

Kangaroo care may help reduce pain when babies have medical procedures. It can also reduce stress for the parents and baby during these procedures.

Skin-to-skin contact during vaccination can also reduce distress in babies aged up to one month.

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 your baby
  • supporting early breastfeeding and milk production
  • reducing stress and anxiety

How to prepare for kangaroo care

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

Here are some practical tips for getting ready for kangaroo care, either in hospital or at home.

  1. Wear a shirt which easily opens down the front, or wear a front-opening hospital gown.
  2. It helps to remove your bra or under garments so that your baby has free access to your breasts.
  3. Have a pillow or 2 for support — and make sure you have a blanket to place over your baby.
  4. Avoid using any strong perfumes, body wash or powders. It’s important that your baby can smell you.
  5. Sit in a comfortable chair with arm rests and a high, supportive back. Use or ask for a footrest if you want one.
  6. Go to the toilet beforehand, have a drink beside you and focus on your own comfort as well.
  7. Speak gently to your baby and tell them what’s happening. You can also hum or sing to your baby so that they can hear your voice.
  8. Be sensitive to your baby’s cues or signals — this will help you understand their feelings.
How to hold your baby during kangaroo care
Click here to view How to hold your baby during kangaroo care.

Kangaroo care for babies in the NICU or special care nursery

Most maternity hospital staff are mindful of the benefits of kangaroo care and will do all they can to support you.

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.

It won’t be the right time for kangaroo care if they need to stay in their humidicrib so they can be more carefully monitored.

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.

Checking your premature baby is ready for kangaroo care

Choose 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.

Resources and support

Miracle Babies Foundation supports premature and sick newborns and their families — call the NutureLine helpline on 1300 622 243 for 24-hour family support.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association has information on breastfeeding and baby care — call the Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268 (1800 mum 2 mum).

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

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

Last reviewed: October 2023

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