The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 2, 2014

Kangaroo care

Technique promotes bonding between mother and newborn

By Jessica Farrish
Register-Herald Reporter

— The first time a mother sees her newborn is a special moment, and for 33-year-old Rebekah Mills of Coal City, it was extra special.

She and her husband, Jim, had tried for nearly three years before getting pregnant.

After a perfect pregnancy, Mills spent more than 30 hours in labor to give birth — so she was more than ready to hold her baby.

When the nursing staff at Raleigh General Hospital placed her 81/2-pound son on her chest, he wasn’t even one minute old.

“They immediately, as soon as he was born, put him up to my chest for me,” she recalled. “It was so nice and amazing to see his little face for the first time.”

That moment is the very best moment of her life, Mills said.

“He just stared right at me, believe it or not,” she said. “I’d never felt that happy before in my life. It was a couple seconds before he started crying, and as soon as they started wiping him down, he looked right back at me again and kept staring at me. He’s my little, God-sent miracle.”

For the next two hours, Mills recalled, she snuggled her son (named Liam in honor of her husband Jim’s Irish heritage) and bonded with him.

Jim and Mills’ mother were able to spend time with Liam, and medical staff were nearby in case of an emergency.

After two hours, medical professionals weighed Liam and began his newborn care.

Called “kangaroo care” — placing a newborn on the mother’s abdomen and allowing mom and baby time to bond and nurse in the moments immediately following birth — is now the standard of care at Raleigh General Hospital, according to Ellen King, director of Women’s and Children’s Services.

Few mothers recall their experiences in labor as joyous occasions, but Mills says her 30-plus hours of labor and delivery are treasured memories, a beautiful experience that she enjoys remembering over and over as she cares for Liam, who is now around 6 weeks old.

“Kangaroo care” in American hospitals started in neo-natal intensive care units, explained King.

“(Medical personnel) noticed that when sick infants were placed on the mother for skin-to-skin contact, their heart rates went down, their oxygen levels would go up and they just became calm,” she said. “They actually did better when they spent time skin-to-skin.”

She added that the body temperatures and glucose levels of babies who had skin-to-skin contact with their mothers (and sometimes their fathers) were more stable.

“Kangaroo care started with the sickest babies and has gone to the healthiest babies,” she said. “It’s something we want to put into place with our normal post-partum moms that are 4, 10 or 24 hours old.”

Babies that are in kangaroo care are more adept at breastfeeding, too, she said.

“It promotes bonding with the mother and baby,” King added.

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This isn’t the first go-around kangaroo care has had in America. The practice possibly started in 1978 in Colombia, as a way of allowing moms to keep their low birth-weight babies warm so that incubators could be freed for other babies, according to online sources.

Kangaroo care hopped into North American hospitals in the 1990s but fell out of vogue until recent scientific studies validated the practice, thereby encouraging hospitals to implement kangaroo care, said King.

Now, according to online news sources, more than 200 NICUs in the United States currently practice kangaroo care.

“It’s coming back as something that’s a standard of care,” said King.

Raleigh General nurses reported in September that the labor and delivery staff have been practicing some forms of kangaroo care in recent years: placing the baby on the mother’s chest and encouraging closeness and breastfeeding right after birth.

Now that kangaroo care is the official standard of care at Raleigh General, moms who deliver their babies there can expect a bonding experience with their babies immediately following birth.

King said that once the baby is born, he or she will be placed immediately on the mom’s abdomen, then between the mother’s breasts.

Time spent with mom immediately after birth should be 90 minutes to two hours under usual circumstances, said King. This gives the baby time to adjust to “life outside the womb.”

“I try to talk to moms about how the baby’s just going to transition from being in a fluid-filled, no-oxygen, dim light to this birth with light, breathing air and having to support itself with its own circulation.

“Putting it in the place where it knows best, which is hearing the mother’s heartbeat, hearing the mother’s voice ... and if you think about where your breasts are, this warm, cuddly place ... is making this transition easier.”

In 90 percent of cases, King said, a baby is born and “is crying and pink.”

Even babies that aren’t as active right after birth usually just need some stimulation with a blanket to begin crying, she added.

“This can all be done on the mom’s abdomen,” said King.

(If the baby is floppy or not breathing right, intervention by medical staff will be done immediately, which can include suctioning the mouth and nose and placing the baby in a warmer.)

Kangaroo care can happen anywhere and is practiced in remote regions where medical equipment isn’t always available, said King, who recently traveled to Uganda to teach midwives there how to resuscitate newborns who don’t immediately begin breathing on their own.

King added that RGH offers all the privacy and personal preferences of a home birth experience — laboring in the shower, laboring with family present or with music — with the security and protection of having certified midwives, nurses and physicians present in case of an emergency.

Mills, who said she learned of “kangaroo care” at a birthing class hosted by RGH lactation specialist Kathy Bailey, said she recommends a “kangaroo care” experience following birth to any parent.

“All the nursery staff were fabulous,” said Mills. “They always came in and checked on us and made sure we were doing well.

“The kangaroo care was the best out of everything: seeing his face so close to mine.”

— E-mail: jfarris@register-herald.com