The Human Incubator: how Kangaroo Care saves preemies

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apr3 (2) Ashleigh sent us a link to this New York Times article called “The Human Incubator,” which is not, as you may be thinking, about pregnancy. The article refers to the practice of “Kangaroo Care” that many parents of preemies know well:

In Rey’s system, a mother of a preemie puts the baby on her exposed chest, dressed only in a diaper and sometimes a cap, in an upright or semi-upright position. The baby is strapped in by a scarf or other cloth sling supporting its bottom, and all but its head is covered by mom’s shirt. The mother keeps the baby like that, skin-to-skin, as much as possible, even sleeping in a reclining chair. Fathers and other relatives or friends can wear the baby as well to give the mother a break. Even very premature infants can go home with their families (with regular follow-up visits) once they are stable and their mothers are given training.

The babies stay warm, their own temperature regulated by the sympathetic biological responses that occur when mother and infant are in close physical contact. The mother’s breasts, in fact, heat up or cool down depending on what the baby needs. The upright position helps prevent reflux and apnea. Feeling the mother’s breathing and heartbeat helps the babies to stabilize their own heart and respiratory rates. They sleep more. They can breastfeed at will, and the constant contact encourages the mother to produce more milk. Babies breastfeed earlier and gain more weight.

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I am a huge fan of Kangaroo Care, and definitely advocate for it — whether or not you have a preemie. It stimulates breast milk production (there’s nothing like having a baby nestled on your chest to get that tell-tell “pins and needles” feeling flowing), helps promote positive breastfeeding (Jasper was nursing well before they thought he’d be able to), and further cements the bond between mother (and father, including bio & non-bio parents) and child. Jasper still prefers to rest on me in a position similar to this.

Read the full New York Times article.

Comments on The Human Incubator: how Kangaroo Care saves preemies

  1. This is the norm in my local hospital. I didn’t have a premmie, but my sister had a “faux premmie” (a full term, but very small, underweight baby) and the hospital let her and her husband do it every time they were in the neonatal unit.
    Also, when I had my son, all of the midwives at the hospital are encouraged to offer skin to skin contact immediately after birth.

  2. Great pictures, Stephanie! I’m glad you posted this. I read it about a week ago and meant to post it on Facebook and forgot! It reminded me of a book I read recently, a memoir of a midwife working in a poor area of London in the 1950s. A baby was born at home at about 31 weeks, and even though home birth was the norm, the midwife still called the hospital due to the prematurity. The mother refused to give the baby over despite being told he would die, and she simply kept him on her chest for the next two months. Right away, she expressed milk and syringe fed, just instinctively, with nobody telling her what to do (and later breastfed), and once a few weeks passed and she had to get up and around, she sewed a handkerchief into a sling of sorts and suspended it from her neck to keep the baby close to her still. No $100 sling! It was so inspiring, particularly the simplicity and instinctiveness of it, and he lived. Some of this was luck, of course — his lungs could have been undeveloped and luckily they were not. But still, sometimes the simplest things really can be enough!

    • I just read this book as well, Tales from a Midwife by Jennifer Worth. This story abou the premature baby being cared for at home was very inspiring, and the woman had already had over 20 births, so I guess her baby instincts were top notch. Glad someone else had just read this as well!

  3. I’d heard of this before, but forgotten about it. Why Kangaroo Care works seems perfectly logical to me. My sister-in-law is due in about 3 months with a very high-risk baby (bebe girl has only 3 heart chambers instead of 4) – I will have to tell her about this. =0)

  4. Kangaroo care is awesome! When my friend delivered her baby 3 months early almost 12 years ago, she and her husband and whomever was holding the baby did it. When I had DB and PP, Hubman and I did it. There is nothing more resorative than touch.

  5. we were not encouraged to use a sling, even though I brought the moby to the hospital. I have always wondered if it was because of all the wires and tubes hooked up to my little guy at the time.

    we were also told we couldn’t hold him any longer at a time than the 45 min he was allotted to try and eat before he was fed through the nose.

    I have no idea if this is normal practice being a variant of the hospital the Navy transfer to me.

    it is my impression as a mother of a baby that was a preemie that in the US we are behind times in terms of how to best care for a preemies. Not in terms of medical intervention but in terms of breast feeding support for mothers of preemies and things like Kangaroo care which has become a practice in the US much later than other countries.

    • You know..I really think it depends, as many things do, on where you give birth. We were in Portland (Oregon) when Jasper was born, and the whole NICU staff was AMAZING. We felt very informed, involved, and that we were allowed to do as much as we could for Jasper while he was in the NICU. I also had amazing breastfeeding support, and it was actively encouraged that all birth mothers in the NICU breastfeed. We could have lucked out with where we were, but I definitely think we had the best NICU experience we could have, all things considered.

  6. The hospital where I am going to give birth is a big fan or this as well. They talked about it during the breastfeeding class and when I did the tour of the hospital. It is really neat to see that hospitals are promoting this and the fact that the mister is very excited to do this as well is a huge plus! The hospital seems really supportive of having mom breastfeed and encourage that you have the baby room-in with you as well. And for people who are using a mid-wife they have rooms that make you feel like you are at home.

  7. Love this article! My daughter was born at 27 weeks gestation and kangaroo care kept her healthy and me sane 🙂 Every day I looked forward to spending hours cuddled with her on my chest, either while she nursed on and off or slept, and I read. It made an overall scary, stressful time into something beautiful in retrospect. Still scary. But definitely beautiful 🙂

  8. i do not have a preemie, but found the kangaroo method really helpful when my milk production seemed a little…meh. a whole day spent shirtless with a naked baby wrapped against me and voila! the milk floweth forward!

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