Kangaroo mother care (KMC) was developed in the late 1970s by doctors in a Columbian hospital.
The death rate for premature babies at that time was approximately 70%. Researchers found that babies held close to their mothers for a large part of the day tended to not only survive, but actually thrive.1
Kangaroo mother care was identified as a solution to problems of overcrowding, nosocomial infection and high mortality and abandonment rates in the maternity unit.2
What is kangaroo mother care?
Kangaroo mother care is also called skin-to-skin care. It is a method of care for babies who are born prematurely, which involves being carried by the parent with skin-to-skin contact.3
It can be done from as little as one hour up to 24 hours a day.4
Both parents can practise kangaroo care and the baby is usually naked, except for a nappy and a cap for warmth if needed.
Again, if warmth is needed, a blanket or robe can be wrapped around both parent and child.
The name kangaroo care comes from the fact that wrapping the baby into your chest looks very much like a marsupial holding a baby in its pouch.5
What are the benefits of kangaroo mother care?
There are many benefits of kangaroo mother care, not just for the baby but for the parent too.
Although early studies focussed on its benefits for premature babies, it is thought that kangaroo care can also be beneficial for babies born at full term.
Here are some of kangaroo care’s benefits:
1. Stabilising the baby’s heart rate
Babies have faster heart rates than adults. Premature babies also tend to have faster heart rates than babies who have reached full term.6
Kangaroo mother care can help to stabilise the baby’s heart rate. The heart rate then usually decreases as the baby gets older.
2. Helps with the baby’s breathing
Until a baby is born, their lungs are filled with a liquid that helps them to develop and grow.
As you go through labour, the fluid is absorbed so that the baby can breathe in air once they are born.
Premature babies can be at high risk of developing breathing problems, as their lungs have not developed well enough to switch from fluid to air.7
Holding your baby against your skin can help to improve your baby’s breathing pattern and make their breathing more regular.8
This improvement in the baby’s breathing can also help to improve how well this oxygen is delivered to all of their organ and tissues, which is very important during their early life.9
3. Helps the baby to sleep
Sleep is very important to babies as it is when a number of body systems are developed including the brain and the senses.
While your baby sleeps, sensory information is organised into long-lasting brain circuits, pathways and connections.
Babies tend to sleep well in kangaroo care, as it promotes the most optimal sleep cycles.10
These benefits can last longer than just the first few weeks of a baby’s life.
One study showed that 10-year-olds who had received kangaroo care when they were born found that they had better sleeping habits than children who did not.11
4. Improves your bond with the baby
Holding your new-born baby close to you helps the bonding process, as it teaches the baby to trust you.12
Studies have shown that kangaroo care can help to reduce the chances of developing post-natal depression. The oxytocin released can decrease maternal anxiety and promote attachment.13
For the partner who has not physically carried or given birth to the baby, it can help with the bond that might not exist naturally.
Babies may also find this calming, as they will be familiar with the partner’s voice from while they were in the womb.14
5. Helping with breastfeeding
New mothers can sometimes find breastfeeding difficult and skin-to-skin contact can help with this, as it stimulates breast milk production.
This means that your baby will be able to get all the benefits of breast milk.15
Babies that have kangaroo care are more likely to breastfeed for longer. They will find it easier to latch on and are less likely to cry and cause stress for the mother.16
Breast milk contains vital vitamins and minerals to support your baby’s growth and development. It is rich in proteins, amino acids, enzymes and hormones.17
Last updated: 8 February 2021