Kangaroo Care: Skin to Skin Contact Essential for Successful Breastfeeding

Danah Bordner with baby Taylor

The benefits of skin-to-skin contact between a mother and her baby in the delivery room are well documented, but still woman who intended to exclusively breastfeed after birth leave the hospital using formula instead of natural milk. Why is this? Recent studies have exposed that lack of proper breastfeeding support or information work against a mother’s wish to breastfeed. Also, lack of initial skin-to-skin contact plays a role in steering a mother away from nursing. But in order to overcome these obstacles, it helps when new mothers have the intention to breastfeed before giving birth.

A recent study presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference found that if a mother shares skin-to-skin contact with her baby in the delivery room, her chances of successfully breastfeeding her infant are better than a mother’s who does not share the same initial physical touch. The study, “Early Skin-to-Skin Contact in the Delivery Room Leads to an Increase in Exclusive Breastfeeding during the Newborn Hospital Stay,” analyzed 150 newborn hospital records from a New York hospital. Researchers took into account other situational factors, including mother’s age, if she planned on breastfeeding before birth, the number of formula feedings during hospital stay, as well as baby’s birth weight and other physiological tests.

Intent to breastfeed is an important factor in the study—without prior commitment to try nursing, it is hard to say whether skin-to-skin contact would sway a mother whose intent was to formula feed from the beginning. But in the case of mothers unsure of their feeding methods, studies like this one could point to the importance of having prolonged physical contact between mother and child as early as the delivery room. Study author Darshna Bhatt, DO, MPH noted the “synergistic effect” that occurs between mother and child.

Bhatt contends that t a mother’s intention to nurse her baby plays a key role in her own breastfeeding practices, aside from lack of support in a delivery room or family setting. “Breastfeeding is one of the easiest things we can do for babies to make sure they’re growing up healthy.  While skin-to-skin contact is associated positively with exclusive breastfeeding, the statistically significant factor is intention,” Bhatt stated.

A renewed look at the Kangaroo Care method—named for the maternal marsupial whose joey pouch fosters close contact—has seen a resurgence in breastfeeding communities. This simple care method advises mothers to directly snuggle their infants (who should only wear a diaper) onto their chests for at least an hour. According to “Skin-to-skin is in,” which appeared on Pregnancy & Newborn’s online magazine, the kangaroo method can “accelerate brain development, reduce stress and tears, regulate body temperature, improve quality of sleep…and encourage breastfeeding behaviors” in newborns. Fathers can also practice the kangaroo method with their infants and reap the same benefits.

Loving Moments by Leading Lady spokesmom Danah Bordner shared her own Kangaroo Care experience in an interview with Best for Babes in June 2012. Bordner talked about having every intention to breastfeed as soon as her daughter, Taylor, was born, and what her delivering hospital’s policy did to encourage Taylor to nurse: “when Taylor was born, during the first hour they put her skin-to-skin on my chest covered with a blanket. They didn’t take her away to weigh her [until later], or to see how long she was or anything.” Bordner credits Taylor’s easy transition into nursing to her delivery room staff’s Kangaroo Care practices. Bordner said, “I think that Kangaroo Care is a big reason we’ve had success.”

Instinct needs guidance—that much is clear concerning breastfeeding in today’s world. Even though breastfeeding is touted as the natural, healthy choice by major pediatric organizations, there are signs of deficiency in delivery rooms and hospitals that do not give proper nursing advice to anxious mothers. By creating an stress-free environment around nursing, mothers might feel more comfortable to pursue breastfeeding even after a few rocky first attempts. We need to encourage a culture of patience while a mother gets used to breastfeeding, especially if it is her first time.

New products that help facilitate skin-to-skin contact include the NuRoo, a shirt designed to cradle a baby close to a mother’s chest. Nursing bras that feature cups that fully drop down or pull-aside cups also expose more skin for contact during nursing. Any time that a mother can use to establish intimacy with her baby is beneficial to both mother and child. Though a free hour seems like an impossible dream with a newborn (not to mention if a mother has other children, too) some of the Kangaroo care products include support belts to assist with no-hold care time. A mom can also pair a looser t-shirt with a Loving Moments Maternity Support Band to create a pouch-like environment for her baby to snuggle in while relaxing.