Hop on the Life-Saving Benefits of Kangaroo Care
When you hear the word kangaroo, a picture of a large animal hopping with its powerful hind legs, long ears and a baby (or joey) tucked in its mother's pouch comes to mind. But what makes kangaroos all the more interesting is the incredible birth cycle of a baby kangaroo. It only takes kangaroo babies between 28 to 33 days to be born. The gestation period of a female kangaroo is one of the shortest in the animal kingdom! Gestation refers to the period between conception and birth.
Unlike most offspring of other mammals, an undeveloped kangaroo embryo measures just one inch long (2.5 centimeters) or about the size of a grape or a jellybean. Still very premature, they instinctively rush into the safety of their mother's marsupial pouch to finish developing.
Because newborn kangaroos cannot suckle or swallow, kangaroo mothers use their muscles to pump milk down their baby's throats. At around four months, the baby kangaroo will begin to come out of their mother's pouch for short periods to fend for itself when it needs to feed on grass and shrubs. They return to continue feeding on their mother's milk. Baby kangaroos leave the pouch for good at ten months.
Taking a Page From Kangaroo Mothers' Parenting Style
Like preterm kangaroos tucked inside their mother's pouch, research shows that touching and holding are essential to caring for babies in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Kangaroo care, also known as skin-to-skin contact, is the practice of a parent holding a baby upright, directly against their bare skin, instead of being left in an incubator. The name is a nod to the resemblance of preterm kangaroos crawling inside their mother's pouch to develop and grow.
Immediate implementation of kangaroo care significantly improves a premature or low birthweight baby's chance of survival. It has the potential to save up to 150,000 more lives each year, compared with the current recommendation of starting kangaroo care only once a baby is stable.
Kangaroo care provides many benefits. It can:
- Regulate a baby's heartbeat and breathing
- Increase a baby's weight gain and decrease the risk of mortality, especially among premature babies
- Support more extended periods of quiet, calm sleep
- Provide a baby easy access to breastfeeding
- Decrease a baby's perception of pain and reduce stress and crying from heel prick blood collections and injections
Parents also benefit from kangaroo care, particularly in boosting the bonding process of parent and child, building confidence in handling their baby and supporting early breastfeeding and milk production. However, if your baby is not well enough to hold, you can practice a gentle, still-touch called hand hugs (also called a containment hold or hand swaddling). To be safe, ask your baby's provider when you can start kangaroo care with your baby.