Australian mother, Kate Ogg, was handed her lifeless son, who was born at just 27 weeks, after doctors had tried for 20 minutes to revive him. She and her husband were asked if they had chosen a name for their son, and when she said “Jamie”, the doctor turned around with her baby boy wrapped in a blanket and gave her the most heartbreaking news any mother could hear, “We’ve lost Jamie. He didn’t make it. Sorry.”
Kate then unwrapped Jamie from his blanket and held him against her skin. For the next two hours, she and her husband cuddled him tightly and told him how much they loved him and of all the things they wanted to do with him throughout his life. Occasionally, he gasped for air which the doctors had warned her would be a reflex action, but she wasn’t so certain. After only a few minutes, he had startled, then started gasping more regularly. This went on for two hours when Kate, in a last ditch effort, gave Jamie a little bit of breastmilk on her finger. To her amazement, he took it and started regular breathing. The doctor came back in, took his stethoscope to Jamie’s chest, and said “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it.” Jamie was alive!
Kate’s experience brought tears to my eyes as I imagined the agony of a mother holding her lifeless child for what she thought were his final moments and then the joy she must have felt when she felt the life in him. Her story was such a testament to me of the miracle of a mother’s touch. Before her story, I’d only been introduced to skin-to-skin contact as an impetus to breastfeeding and had used it on occasion to soothe my crying babies. Never had I imagined that it could have a life-saving effect on a child.
Only time will tell, but Jamie is now a healthy 5 month old, and his mother is speaking publicly for the first time about her experience to highlight the importance of skin-to-skin contact, also known as kangaroo care, for pre-term infants. You can hear her amazing story in the interview below.
Kangaroo care is the practice of skin-to-skin contact similar to the way a kangaroo would carry her young, hence the name. Baby is placed in an upright position on a mother’s bare chest between her breasts allowing tummy to tummy contact. The baby’s head is turned so that the ear is above the parent’s heart, and the baby is naked except for a diaper with a blanket covering his or her back.
This skin-to-skin contact between mother and child has remarkable effects on baby, whether pre-term or full-term. Studies have shown that the warmth of the mother’s body and the soothing sounds of her heartbeat can reduce anxiety and crying; help to regulate heart rate, breathing and temperature; induce longer periods of sleep and alertness; reduce reaction to pain (observed in studies of reaction to the heel prick); stimulate more rapid weight gain and brain development; and enhance bonding between mother and child. New dads can also experience enhanced bonding through kangaroo care. Skin-to-skin contact is also associated with more successful breastfeeding as it may help promote further milk production.
How does it work? Studies have shown that mothers have thermal synchrony with their baby. When the baby was cold, the mother’s body temperature would increase to warm the baby up, and when the baby was too warm, the mother’s body would absorb excess heat to prevent overheating. Babies who are kangarooed also fall asleep more quickly and more deeply. Both of these traits allow babies to conserve energy and put it towards growth and development. Researchers have also studied brain wave patterns of infants in kangaroo care and found an increase in the brain wave pattern associated with contentment and bliss as well as increased activity in development of neural synapses.
Mothers who wish to practice skin-to-skin contact should consider the following tips:
- Discuss it with your care provider prior to birth to request immediate skin-to-skin contact unless there are complications that prevent you from doing so.
- If your baby is doing well, ask the staff to delay their evaluation or perform it while you hold your baby. Many of the procedures can be done while the baby is on your chest.
- If your child is in the NICU, ask the staff about the hospital’s policy. Not all hospitals support kangaroo care, and there are differing opinions amongst those who do as to when babies are able to do so. Many hospitals will allow kangaroo care as soon as the baby is stable enough to come out of the incubator while others will allow it from birth.
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