First Contact

by Alison Bell

First Contact

“Kangaroo care,” a method of holding newborns that originated in Bogota, Columbia, has taken hold in a number of hospitals here. The technique was developed to warm babies when there weren’t enough incubators to go around. In the U.S., it’s most often employed in neonatal intensive-care units. You can practice kangaroo care with your infant as a way to bond and help him make the transition from womb to world.

Positively Marsupial

The technique involves holding your newborn seminaked against your bare chest, with a blanket wrapped around him. Cuddling in this intimate way has many advantages, especially for preemies. Studies have shown it raises a baby’s temperature, helps stabilize his heart rate, improves sleeping and breathing patterns, and can contribute to weight gain.

It can encourage breastfeeding as well. Researchers at Brown University recently found that mothers of low-birthweight babies who used skin-to-skin contact tended to breastfeed longer than those who nursed with their infants clothed, wrapped in blankets, and held. “When you hold your baby to your breast, he smells milk, your body senses his presence, the milk starts to flow, and your baby moves to breastfeeding more smoothly,” says Heidelise Als, Ph.D., director of neurobehavioral infant and child studies at the Children’s Hospital, in Boston.

Going Skin-To-Skin

If you decide to practice kangaroo care, you can treat your baby and yourself anytime it fits in to your life. You’ll probably feel most comfortable sitting or lying down. (If your baby spits up a lot, prop yourself up with a pillow when lying down so he’s in a semi-upright position.)

As for your infant’s wardrobe, all he needs is a diaper (so you don’t get wet). Cover him up with a light blanket or shawl and he’ll be as cozy as a baby kangaroo in its mother’s pouch.