Newborn kangaroos are not ready to face the outside world: they are kept warm and safe by full-body contact within the pouches of mommy kangaroos . an ideal environment in which to thrive and develop. Might prematurely born humans benefit from a similar experience? The November 13, 2004 issue of the British Medical Journal was devoted to important health lessons that rich countries can learn from poorer ones.
One of the most exciting papers described Kangaroo Care for premies, a technique developed in Colombia when there were not enough incubators available to keep early babies warm and safe. Babies weighing less than 4 and ½ pounds who are unable to regulate their own body temperatures in the absence of mechanical incubators, instead use their mothers as incubators, sources of stimulation, and fountains of feeding. The babies are attached to mothers’ (and other caregivers.) chests in skin-to-skin contact, and are kept upright 24 hours a day. Mothers can share the role of provider of the kangaroo position with others, especially fathers. The caregivers sleep in a semi-sitting position. The kangaroo care begins as soon as the baby no longer requires ventilators or I.V.’s — although intermittent skin-to-skin contact has been used in younger babies on ventilators.
The World Health Organization published guidelines for Kangaroo Care in 2003 (Kangaroo mother care: a practical guide). Raising premies this way is safe, costs a fraction of an incubator, improves breastfeeding rates and improves bonding between mother and infant. In impoverished settings, it also reduces medical complications compared to incubators. Babies seem to prefer this round-the-clock close contact up until about 37 weeks after conception. Parents and other care providers also prefer it, once they have experienced it. Even though being available in this way can be a challenge for families, almost 100 percent of those who have done it have said that they would do it again without hesitation if they were to have a premature baby in the future. So would I.
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