SINGAPORE: When Selina Ibrahim’s newborn was two weeks old, the once quiet and sleepy little nipper started crying for hours on end. Nothing mum or dad did could console him. More breastfeeding, songs or walks in the pram only worked for a few minutes before the little boy’s face crumpled up and his wails were heard throughout the neighbourhood. His parents were stressed out and at a loss for what to do.
Then, a mummy friend suggested that Selina strip her baby down to his diapers, remove her top and place him against her chest. When she did this, her little one was at once calm. “It was the first time I had heard about kangaroo care and its effects. My son and I had some skin-to-skin time right after delivery, but no one told me I could carry on doing it.”
Her little boy loved that intimate time with mummy and Selina soon realised it was a sure-fire way to soothe him. “It also meant it was the only way he would fall asleep for the first few months - yes, it was exhausting to have him on me for that many hours. But I loved that a simple act like that could make such a big difference, so I didn’t mind that much,” she adds.
SKIN-TO-SKIN AND THE BENEFITS
Skin-to-skin contact between a parent and baby is also known as kangaroo care. This simple act is said to increase bonding between mummy and her mini-me in the early days after birth and helps to establish breastfeeding.
“It is recommended that, as soon as the baby is stabilised after birth, the baby should be laid onto the mother’s bare skin over her chest, provided the mother is also well enough to tolerate it,” notes Dr Natalie Ann Epton, a paediatrician and neonatologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital.
Once bubba is lying naked on mum’s bare skin, Dr Epton recommends draping warm blankets to cover both the baby and mummy, so that they won’t lose heat. Don’t worry, C-section mamas, you won’t be left out of this all-important snuggle session.
“Skin-to-skin contact can be offered in the operating theatre, provided that the mother and baby are both stable and well,” says Dr Epton. “The greatest challenge in the operating theatre is ensuring that babies don’t become too cold, as operating theatres are often kept quite cool. I generally do not offer more than 5 to 10 minutes of skin-to-skin contact within the theatre, before removing the baby to a warmer environment.”
Mother and baby should continue to cuddle in close physical contact for the first hour of life, also known as the Golden Hour. Doing so is critical to the child’s growth and development. It regulates the baby’s internal temperature, normalises the heartbeat rate and breathing, regulates the blood glucose levels and reduces stress and response to painful stimuli.
In fact, the Golden Hour shouldn’t be interrupted for non-urgent tasks, such as weighing or measuring the baby, which can be delayed until after mum and baby have completed the first hour of skin-to-skin contact, says Dr Epton.
IT’S A GREAT WAY FOR DADS TO BOND WITH THEIR NEWBORNS
Dr Epton notes, “As with mothers, skin-to-skin contact between father and baby aids in increasing a strong emotional bond.” Since mummies have had all of the contact with baby since the day of conception, having this intimate time with bub is a great way for dad to get in on some uninterrupted bonding time.
Doing it right after the birth also can make dad feel like he was part of the delivery. By the way, if mum’s Caesarean is performed under general anaesthesia and she’s still unconscious during the Golden Hour, dads can step in to have the first skin-to-skin contact with the baby, says Dr Epton.
“This will provide the baby with the warmth and comfort he needs during the first hour of life, whilst his mother is in the post-operative recovery area,” Dr Epton adds. “Then later baby can be with the mother after she is awake and has recovered from the anaesthesia.”
IT HELPS PREMATURE BABIES SURVIVE
Premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) are extremely fragile, so ensuring they are safe and medically stable is always the first priority.
“However, once a baby reaches a stable state, skin-to-skin contact, or kangaroo care is beneficial, even in the NICU setting,” notes Dr Epton. “The baby is placed gently onto the mother or father's chest, where they are then held and rocked or cuddled, while the parent talks or sings to the baby.”
Studies have shown that when kangaroo care is given to premature babies, an improvement in weight gain is noticed, as well as a reduction in respiratory problems. It also helps to reduce rates of newborn infections, all of which translates to a shorter hospital stay.
“Babies who experience kangaroo care in the NICU become more attached to their mothers, and have increased social abilities, as well as greater motor and cognitive skills,” adds Dr Epton.
PREVENTS POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION IN MUMS
Mothers who practise kangaroo care with their newborns are less likely to experience postnatal depression and are more able to read their baby’s cues.
According to Dr Epton, this is probably due to the stimulation and release of the “love” hormone, oxytocin, during skin-to-skin contact. “It causes a rush of loving emotions, helping mum to feel more attached to her baby and reduces negative or sad feelings.”
This hormone also stimulates the uterus to shrink down to its normal size after labour and delivery, which reduces the risk of postpartum haemorrhage or bleeding. Another added benefit is that oxytocin stimulates milk production by increasing the release of the hormone prolactin, which in turn stimulates the breasts to produce milk. This will be very helpful in establishing a successful breastfeeding journey with your little one.
As you can see, kangaroo care offers amazing benefits. But it isn’t just for babies.
“Cuddle time should always be important throughout a child's life - even through adolescence and into adulthood,” Dr Epton says. “Through gentle affirmatory touch, parents remind their children that they are loved and accepted.”
A version of this story first appeared in Smart Parents