Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) reminds us of how marsupials or kangaroos take care of their young. The infant kangaroo is always born prematurely. When the little kangaroo is born, it crawls into the maternal pouch where it receives warmth, safety and food, until maturation.
Similar to the kangaroo mother, the human mother provides a safe, warm environment and frequent feeding opportunities for her premature baby, when she cares for her using the KMC method. This can be seen as the continuation of a pregnancy that has been disrupted.
KMC is an innovative method of taking care of premature babies. It can however also be used for full-term babies until they become uncomfortable in the KMC position. KMC has a list of benefits and is a relatively simple and novel method of caring for premature babies.
How does KMC work for babies?
KMC refers to the continuous nursing of a baby skin-to-skin on the mother’s or father’s chest. The baby is dressed only in a nappy and then placed on the mother’s naked chest between her breasts with the head underneath her chin.
Continuous KMC is skin-to-skin care practised for 24 hours, day and night. The baby is removed from the position, only when the mother takes a bath. Alternatively, intermittent KMC can be practised. The baby is held skin-to-skin for a shorter period of time when the mother or father is unable to be with their infant for 24 hours. In this case parents can practise KMC for a few hours per day and still experience the benefits of skin-to-skin contact.
The benefits of KMC
Research studies have shown numerous benefits when using KMC. These benefits have been divided into three categories namely benefits to the baby, the parents and the hospital.
Benefits to the baby
- maintenance of adequate body temperature
- less crying
- more quiet sleep periods
- fewer energy-consuming movements, which leads to satisfactory weight gain
- increased initiation and duration of breastfeeding with more babies receiving exclusive breastfeeding, even while they are still little
- no additional risk for infection and reduction of the occurrence and severity of hospital acquired infections
- KMC babies can also be discharged to home sooner.
Benefits to the parents
- an increased sense of bonding with their baby
- an increased confidence in caring for their baby
- continuation of the interrupted nurturing role as a mother
- the empowerment to become the primary caregiver again
- Skin–to-skin care also enables both fathers and mothers to participate in their infants’ care
- the closeness improves bonding between parents and their infants.
Benefits to the hospital
- significant cost-savings
- improved staff morale
- better survival
- improved quality of care
Care continued at home
Kangaroo discharge refers to the fact that many low birth-weight babies can be discharged earlier. Discharge irrespective of weight is possible once the infant is feeding satisfactorily and weight gain is maintained. KMC is continued at home until the baby reaches a weight of 2 - 3 kg or when the baby becomes restless and protests when tied in the KMC position.
Latest research by Dr Nils Bergman has shown the benefit of KMC for the tiniest, sick babies who are still ventilated.
Visit www.kangaroomothercare.com for information and pictures on the subject.
By Welma Lubbe, (April 2005), www.littlesteps.co.za
(Updated by Dr A.H. Walele MB ChB, FCPaed in November 2007)
The magic of kangaroo care