Skin-to-skin, or ‘kangaroo’ care, involves holding your baby against your bare chest to provide extra warmth and promote bonding. (It has long been known that small babies can’t maintain their temperature well.) This method benefits both baby and the parents. Even in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU), skin-to-skin care benefits and can be practiced by both mothers and fathers. Being close to you will help your newborn adjust to being born and make him feel safe and secure. If you have chosen to breastfeed, it is important for you and your baby to get started as soon as possible after birth. Being skin-to-skin with you gives the baby the best chance to make that happen.
Skin-to-skin care has an interesting history. Peter de Chateau in Sweden first described studies of "early contact" with mother and baby at birth in 1976, although the articles do not describe specifically that this was skin-to-skin contact. Klaus and Kennell did very similar work in the USA, more well known in the context of early maternal-infant bonding.
Skin-to-skin care was popularized by Dr. Edgar Rey Sanabria, a Colombian neonatologist. Dr. Sanabria practiced newborn medicine in settings where equipment to keep babies warm was not available. It was also known that an unregulated low body temperature is associated with a higher risk of death for infants. In 1981, Drs. Rey Sanabria and Martinez published their findings of improved outcomes with ‘Kangaroo Mother Care.’ As additional benefits to mothers and babies were identified, the approach was adopted internationally in both under-resourced and more technologically-advanced settings. The first reported use of the term "skin-to-skin contact" is by Thomson in 1979, and quotes the work of de Chateau in its rationale.
Skin-to-skin Care in the NICU
When your baby can be safely moved, your nurse will help you get ready for skin-to-skin care by giving you a reclining chair and warm blankets to cover you and your baby. Your nurse will also assist you with transferring your baby to and from the bed to your chest. We recommend that a parent kangaroo for at least one hour at a time so that the baby isn’t awakened shortly after being moved and can fall into a deep and restful sleep.