Kangaroo Care: Baby Carriers for Preemies

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The benefits of carrying our babies close are well known.  But what about preemies?  In the first weeks after a premature birth, parents of preemies are often exhausted from monitoring their baby in the NICU, emotionally spent at the delay in taking their baby home, and scared about the health concerns associated with premature birth.   When your premature baby comes home for good, Kangaroo care – with the right carrier for low birthweight babies – can significantly improve health, vitality, development, and – of course – attachment.

How Does Kangaroo Care Work?

The infant mortality rate for preemies topped out at 70% in Bogota, Columbia in the 1980s.  Out of necessity,  a protocol of care mandated that premature infants were held 24 hours a day by their mothers and caregivers.  With little in the way of advanced medical care,  holding baby close all day was the only option to reduce infection, improve respiratory weakness, and bond parent and child.  Researchers were amazed and encouraged by the stunningly successful results: rapid growth, increased vitality, freedom from respiratory therapy, improved feeding, and retention of body heat.

How Kangaroo Care Helps:

Preemies don’t have the body regulatory systems of full-term babies.  They lose body heat quickly, making them vulnerable to illness.  But when a baby is carried close to the mother’s chest, her body actually senses the baby’s temperature and the breast temperature rises 2 degrees in a matter of minutes. 

Not only does carrying help baby’s temperature regulation, but preemies’ greatest health challenge: hearty and unaided respiration.  Premature infants cannot regulate their breathing, but when carried chest-to-chest with a parent or caregiver, preemies match their breathing to their parents’. 

And getting to know your baby is perhaps the best benefit of all.  And I’m not just talking about emotional benefits.  Preemie parents have a steep learning curve.  When your baby has been contained most often in a plastic incubator, holding him as much as possible will feel like a dream come true.  It will also be the much needed crash course in bonding both of you need.

Which Carriers Are Perfect for Preemies?

  • Slings: Ring or pre-sized, these are an ideal choice for preemies because of their soft, yet snug feel.  Baby is supported and shielded from head to toe.  Slight adjustments can move your little one from a more supine cradle position for eating to a more upright position for digestion and sleeping, with baby’s head near the thrum-thrum of your heartbeat.  Because preemies can be carried with kangaroo care when they weigh as little as 4.5 pounds, a slightly stretchy carrier can provide softness that a 100% cotton carrier cannot.  With heavier babies, this give can reduce the feeling of having a secure carry, but this stretchiness is ideal for newborns.  Also, the absence of rough seams is a plus.  I recommend the jacquard weave of the Didymos ring sling.
  • Wraps:  Offering even more versatility than slings in the way you hold your premature baby, wraps provide the best fit.  The Moby and other similar knit-wraps allow for the best newborn front-carries and will still be practical for when your baby is a bit bigger, when you can use the hip carry, outward facing, and back-carrying wrap styles.  Wraps are also ideal for preemies and their parents because size isn’t an issue.  No gaps or loose pockets of fabric will separate baby from you, which maximizes the temperature regulation benefits of kangaroo care.

Bottom Line:

Kangaroo care has been used when there was no other specialized care option for preemies.  But even when other options are available, when preemies are taken home, the best option is still available: baby carrying.  The research confirms that the more preemies are held close by their parents, the faster they will grow, gain weight, develop cognitively through eye contact and communication from parents, and become independent in their ability to regulate breathing and body temperature.

The best thing you can do for your premature infant is also the thing you most want to do.  It’s the best of both worlds, all wrapped up.


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