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The Benefits of Kangaroo Care & How to Do It

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD
Updated
Learn more about kangaroo care and the benefits of skin-to-skin contact.

Kangaroo care may sound like something you’d do in the zoo, but it’s actually a great way to take care of premature babies.

In this article, we’ll discuss what kangaroo care is, its benefits, and exactly how to do it.


What is Kangaroo Care?

Kangaroo care involves a parent holding a preemie skin-to-skin against them as much as possible during the day.

The baby only wears a diaper, and a hat if they need it, and their back is warmed up by using a blanket or some other kind of fabric on it. The baby is cuddled upright against the parent’s bare chest.

It was first developed in the 1980s in South America at a hospital to keep preemies warm because they didn’t have incubators. They realized body heat would be a good way to keep them warm, and the best candidates for snuggling those babies would be the parents who were at the hospital all the time for their baby anyway.

Benefits of Kangaroo Care

Benefits of Kangaroo CareKangaroo care has a host of benefits for babies. It can (1):

  1. Help a baby and parent establish a strong bond from day one.
  2. Assist a baby with regulating their temperature, which is often difficult for preemies. Your body heat is just what your baby needs right now.
  3. Improve brain functioning for a preemie, and the benefits will be there even years later.
  4. Help preemies sleep better – they’ll sleep deeper and wake up less frequently, which is good news for you too.
  5. Make their heart rate more stable.
  6. Help them gain more weight and faster than those who don’t.
  7. Help babies with breastfeeding because they have constant access to their milk source.
  8. Reduce the stress newborns experience, and make them feel safe and calmer. Just being next to you is enough to do that — it’s like your new super power!
  9. Give dads a little bonding time with baby. So many of the duties for a newborn fall upon the mom’s shoulders, but kangaroo care is something dads can do to chip in and help out.
  10. Offer some benefits for moms, not just their babies, like fighting off postpartum depression. It can help lessen the depression new moms sometimes feel.

When To Start Kangaroo Care

While kangaroo care is good throughout your baby’s infancy, it’s best to begin it within the first two hours of your child’s life. That can help your baby with the stresses of being born.

If that’s not possible, begin doing it as soon as you’re able. Keeping doing it every day throughout your baby’s hospital stay.

You should aim for a minimum of an hour a day. It doesn’t have to be all at once — you can break it up into several sessions every day. Even just a few minutes at a time is long enough to help your baby (2).

How To Do Kangaroo Care

You may want to wear a button-up shirt and a front-closure bra to give you a way to quickly get your clothes out of the way without having to take everything off.

Because skin-to-skin contact is the whole point of kangaroo care, you’ll strip your baby down to its diaper. But you should have a blanket handy to prevent your preemie from getting chilled while you’re cuddling.

You can ask the nurses at the hospital nursery if there is a screen you can use to give yourself some privacy while you do kangaroo care. If not, you can turn your chair away from the entrance of the room, so it’s facing a corner. If you’re wearing a button-up shirt, no one walking into the room will be able to see what you’re doing.

You’ll likely need to ask a nurse to help you so she can make sure any monitors or other devices your baby is hooked up to aren’t affected by moving your baby around.

After you’ve unbuttoned your shirt and unhooked your bra, you’ll place your baby next to your bare chest. Then you’ll drape the blanket over your baby’s back. If you want, you could close the front of your shirt and wrap it around your baby instead of using a blanket.

What To Avoid

Before you do kangaroo care, you should avoid perfumes or smoking. And you should make sure your skin is in good, healthy condition — you don’t want any contagious rashes or cuts that could lead to germ exposure for your baby when they are in such a fragile state of health.

How Dads Can Help Too

Kangaroo care isn’t just a thing for moms — dads can get involved as well. They can do everything the mom can do, except for the whole breastfeeding thing.

It’s a good idea for dads to do kangaroo care because it gives bonding time for them and their baby, and it gives moms a break so they can recover from childbirth.

Headshot of Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett is a veteran board-certified pediatrician with three decades of experience, including 19 years of direct patient clinical care. She currently serves as a medical consultant, where she works with multiple projects and clients in the area of pediatrics, with an emphasis on children and adolescents with special needs.

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