Skin to Skin Kangaroo Care for Newborn baby

“A Baby Needs His Mother and a Mother Needs Her Baby” – A story told by Kathleen Long, RN, CNS

The patient, a new mother, was in the ICU, unconscious and on a ventilator following a seizure and brain herniation from pregnancy-induced hypertension. Her baby was in the newborn nursery. I had just returned from a three-day, skin-to-skin bonding program. I brought her baby up to the ICU, unwrapped him and removed his T-shirt. I lowered the patient’s hospital gown and placed the baby skin-too skin on her chest. Before I placed the baby on her chest, I called her by name and told her that her son was here. It was a good chance to put into practice what I had just learned.

The baby spent several minutes lying cheek to chest on his mother. Several times, he attempted to make eye contact with his mother, adjusting his position and trying to see her. But, the ventilator tube always obstructed his view. After about 30 minutes, the baby had positioned himself on his mother’s chest so that he was able to latch onto her breast and breastfeed successfully. As he suckled, his left hand was on the ventilator tube pushing it ever so slightly to remove it from his line of sight to his mother’s face. He gazed up at her lovingly.

Several days later, the mother regained consciousness and was extubated. As I entered her room, I introduced myself. She stopped me in mid sentence and said: ‘ I know who you are, you are the one who brought my baby to me. Until I felt him on my chest, I was unclear about where I was or what had happened. When I heard you say my baby was here and I felt him against my skin, I began to understand my situation. When I felt him latch onto my breast, I knew I had to fight to stay alive because my baby needs his mother’.

The hospital discharged mom and baby and both are doing well. I knew the physical instinct between mothers and their babies is broad and powerful, but this particular interaction influenced my care. In this case, would the mother have survived without the sense that her baby was there? I learned firsthand the importance of keeping families together even under dire circumstances. It’s good for the babies and it’s good for the moms.”


Skin-to-skin or kangaroo care is one of natures most powerful tools for the initial care of a newborn. The benefits to both mother and baby are numerous, and in many scenarios proves to be life saving, as was seen in the dramatic story above. Skin-to-skin care is when a mother and baby are cuddled up together, with a baby lying shirt free on her mother’s bare chest. The American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Breastfeeding states: “Healthy infants should be placed and remain in direct skin to skin contact with their mothers immediately after delivery until the first feeding is accomplished. -2005”

So why is this simple step post delivery so important? Simply put, a mother’s body is the best environment for a newborn baby. A mother’s chest is a far better infant warmer then our synthetic ones. It’s a medical fact that if necessary, a mother’s body will rise in temperature to meet the needs of her fragile newborn. This simple step provides a more gentle transition to life outside of the womb immediately after birth.  Your baby has just undergone a huge altering change, and is going to need some time to adjust from “Womb to Room” .  Skin-to-skin allows this to happen in a less traumatic way. Beyond the initial transition that occurs, there are also many medical benefits for both mother and baby such as:


  • Stabilizing the baby’s breathing pattern and oxygen intake
  • Maintains infant temperature better than an infant warmer, allowing the baby to stay warmer
  • Stabilizes glucose levels, preventing hypoglycemia or low blood sugar which can be triggered by low body temperature
  • Reduces stress hormones released from crying due to an immediate separation from mother. Babies placed skin-to-skin cry less, and calm more easily
  • Stabilizes baby’s blood pressure
  • Increases early breastfeeding initiation
  • Decrease risk of jaundice
  • Increase weight gain
  • Strengthens infant brain development through verbal and tactile stimulation
  • Decrease pain perception during newborn procedures such as heel sticks, and vitamin K injections. Most newborn procedures and assessments can be done while baby is still skin-to-skin on the mother.


  • Triggers release of oxytocin which has a relaxing calming effect, promoting mother/infant bonding while also stimulating milk production
  • Enhances the birth experience
  • Increases breast milk production
  • Increases duration and success of breastfeeding
  • Increases confidence in parenting


Studies have shown time and time again how breast milk is the best source of food for all infants. A study performed and reported in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health showed a randomized controlled trial of very early mother-infant skin-to-skin contact. The study was done to evaluate the effects of skin-to-skin contact during the first 2 hours post birth compared to standard care of holding a baby wrapped in a blanket, and the effects  it had on long term breastfeeding outcomes. The results were astonishing. The first two hours of life is when the baby is most responsive to cues from their mothers. It is known as a “sensitive period” and is the most crucial step for establishing effective breastfeeding. The results showed that babies placed directly on their mother’s chest triggered a catecholamine surge resulting in achieving effective breastfeeding sooner. It also showed less long term breastfeeding problems than the babies who were NOT placed skin-to-skin but simply put in a synthetic environment wrapped in a blanket.  Therefore the ending result: Babies and mothers placed in skin-to-skin contact directly after birth resulted in less breast feeding problems, and higher duration of success.

For our babies born premature, skin-to-skin , also known as kangaroo care can prove to be life saving in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as this close contact stabilizes the infants body heat as well as their neurological system. It is one of the greatest gifts that these fragile babies can receive to help fight off infection to an already compromised start. It is as close as these babies can get to being placed back in the womb.


The AAP recommends practicing skin-to-skin immediately after delivery and through out the first month of life for at least 2 hours a day. It is a good idea to have a time set aside before feedings as this should be done in addition to meal time. It also can aid in calming your baby when he/she is fussy.  The best way to get started is to place your baby between your bare breasts, in an upright position (tummy to tummy) Cover your baby and yourself with a warm blanket. Place a hat on your baby’s head to keep in good body heat. Enjoy this time for at least one hour to gain the most benefits.

The great thing about skin-to-skin care, is that it can be done as often as mother and baby like. In addition, the mother’s partner can also participate in this special bonding time as well. Take the time to invest in each other, it is a special moment that should be enjoyed. You are giving both yourself, your milk supply, but most importantly your baby a wonderful start in life.

Copyright© 2011 Danielle Gauss,IBCLC – All Rights Reserved.

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