When your baby is born prematurely, it is natural to feel unimaginable stress and helplessness. But if there was something more you could do to promote the health and wellness of your baby, while greatly easing your emotional stress, you would undoubtedly do it.
A very interesting study in Evolutionary Psychology Journal suggests that human babies are physically made to be held and carried, as opposed to ‘nested’ (i.e. left in the bassinet). “The human infant, when lying on the back, frequently assumes a position where both legs are flexed and abducted.”1 The study goes onto discuss the shape of an infant’s spine is a ‘C’ shape which is conducive to being carried on their caregiver’s front (facing them), as opposed to an adult’s spine which is ‘S’ shaped. It is perfectly natural for babies to be worn and carried; they are physically created to be!
Other studies suggest that babies cry 43-54% less in the evening hours if carried at least three hours throughout the day.2 One cannot spoil a newborn. Just imagine for a minute being carried every single second and then suddenly pushed out (quite literally) into the cold, bright, scary world, suddenly separated from your life source and everything you knew. Isn’t it only natural to ease this transition by creating a womblike environment on the outside? A baby wrap carrier perfectly accomplishes this. We like to think of it as a womb with a view.
As a Labor & Delivery RN, it is part of my daily job to encourage skin-to-skin contact between mom and newborn. Immediately after birth, placing the infant directly on mother’s chest (dried off) promotes more stable temperatures, blood sugar levels, respiratory efforts, and breastfeeding success. Allowing the newborn to feel the warmth of their mother, hear her heartbeat and voice, and smell her creates a hormonal chain reaction promoting the health and wellness of both parties involved.
Of course premature babies may not get the immediate opportunity for this contact following birth, but these babies in the NICU greatly benefit from it later, called Kangaroo Mother Care, when stable enough to do so. The importance of physical contact to babies is essential for their growth. A study showed mothers who practiced Kangaroo Care at least six hours a day with their low birthweight infant showed significant increases in weight, length, and head circumstances in comparison to babies who did not have this contact.3
True Kangaroo Care is maintaining this skin-to-skin contact for up to 24 hours a day. Think of the caregiver as a natural incubator, providing warmth and security for their tiny baby. Baby wrap carriers are perfect for skin-to-skin as they keep baby secure and snug while in immediate contact with their caregiver. It acts as a womb outside of the womb not only offering these wonderful health benefits for the baby but also invaluable bonding during this critical time.
Kangaroo Care with a baby wrap carrier can be started once the premature baby is off of ventilator support with the approval of the infant’s doctor and nurses. The nurses can assist with any equipment as most NICU babies require continuous pulse oximetry, ECG leads, and even oxygen or IV therapy. The caregiver should tie the wrap on their bare chest and the infant should be stripped down to just a diaper and placed chest to chest in an upright or prone position (for instructions on how to tie a wrap and place a newborn in, see http://www.ackwrap.com/how-to-wear/). Be sure the wrap is tight enough to feel the baby securely on the chest, but I do not recommend being completely hands-free until the infant is home healthy and safely from the NICU. The caregiver should be able to look down and easily see the baby has good coloring, their airway is nice and patent and their chin is off their chest. The mother or father will be completely covered up by the wrap but a blanket or jacket can be worn on top for additional warmth and modesty if needed.
It can a very stressful time physically and emotionally when your baby is born prematurely. Parents often feel helpless and disconnected. Practicing Kangaroo Care when able is a wonderful way to benefit the baby on many levels while allowing the parent to bond with and partake in the care of their premature infant.
Disclaimer: All advice should be used at the discretion of the medical doctors, nurses, and health professionals partaking in your child’s care.
1Evolutionary Psychology- ISSN 1474-7049- Volume 5(1). 2008, -106- Natural Parenting
2Increased carrying reduces infant crying: A randomized controlled trial. UA Hunziker, RG Barr Pediatrics 77 1986
3Effect of Kangaroo Mother Care on physical growth, breastfeeding and its acceptability. G Gathwala, B Singh, J Singh, Tropical Doctor 40(4) 2010
Leslie Brake, BA, BSN, RN is a Labor & Delivery and Maternal/Newborn Registered Nurse. She is also the creator and CEO of ACK Wrap. The business is local to Austin, Texas though the idea for the business derived from Nantucket, Massachusetts, hence the name. Leslie still practices as a nurse while running the business with her firefighter husband Matthew. She has an (almost) two year old daughter Charlotte and another daughter on the way. The vision of ACK Wrap is to expand the population of babywearing mothers and fathers while spreading the knowledge of the benefits of babywearing. They currently donate baby wrap carriers to NICU families of Austin through Seton. Visit ACKwrap.com for more details.