While working in a NICU setting, we as staff get used to the long-term admissions, fragile 24-weekers, and the deer-in-headlights look from caregivers during those first few weeks. Feelings of inadequacy and lack of control can easily creep into our most experienced and knowledgeable caregivers when their baby is the patient. Much of this time, caregivers look to the medical team to provide care to their babies and can easily forget the power they have as a caregiver. Kangaroo care (skin-to-skin) holding gives back a huge level of control as caregivers are able to provide undeniable benefits to their baby that no nurse or doctor can provide.

What is skin-to-skin holding?

Kangaroo care involves direct skin-to-skin contact between the caregiver and infant. This type of touch stimulates the C-afferent nerves, which are packed under the sensitive skin on our chests. Research shows that activating these nerves with positive touch leads to a release of hormones that promote many positive benefits including: brain growth and development, digestion and weight gain, immune system benefits, reduced stress and crying, stability of heart rate and breathing, temperature regulation. These nerves send a message to the brain that produces oxytocin, which creates physiological and psychological benefits. All of these positive outcomes greatly affect an infant’s hospitalization as they are provided with real human connection with the people that love them the most.

For caregivers, this special time with their infants promotes bonding, positive coping, and emotional connection during this stressful time. Caregivers are empowered to make observations about their babies, engage in their daily care, and learn appropriate ways to stimulate their infant which increases collaborative care between caregivers and nurses.

What is a Kangaroo-A-Thon?

A Kangaroo-A-Thon is an event to promote this wonderful skin-to-skin holding between infants and caregivers! The event was held over the course of 13 days to allow for maximum opportunities for participation. Nurses were instrumental in being available, providing education, and supporting our caregivers to engage in the act of skin-to-skin care. Caregivers were encouraged to hold their infants skin-to-skin as long and often as possible (and was safe) during these 13 days. A plethora of prizes were raffled off to caregivers and nurses as the unit was decorated with kangaroos and hearts to support our “Heart-to-Heart” theme.

What happened?

We had a tremendous response across all disciplines and especially with our caregivers.  The number of families participating in the event increased over 50% from the week prior to the event and our total number of hours documented rose from 140 hours to just over 304 hours.  Caregivers were asking more questions and becoming more confident and capable partners in their baby’s care.  All in all, we had a very fun time promoting, supporting, and running this event. Skin-to-skin care is a simple yet extremely effective tool that turns even our most cautious caregivers into confident, knowledgeable, and competent partners.

Catherine Ney

Catherine Ney, MS, CCLS, is a Child Life Specialist I at Comer Children’s Hospital.

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