Kangaroo Mother Care: What is it, and what are its benefits?

What is Kangaroo Mother Care?

Kangaroo Mother Care is a simple way of caring for newborn infants. It is also referred to as skin-to-skin care. With this form of care, the infant is placed against the mother’s skin to help regulate its body temperature. Kangaroo Mother Care, abbreviated KMC, has been shown to meet the newborn’s essential needs for survival by providing the following: stimulation, breast milk for nutrition, warmth for survival, protection and an amazing session to bond. We will look at more of these benefits below.

Did You Know…

Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) is referred to that way because it mimics how kangaroos take care of their infants. Mother kangaroos carry their young ones in a special pouch such that the baby kangaroo is held against its mother’s body all through. While it is in the pouch, the baby kangaroo is kept warm, is able to nurse whenever it needs too, and is protected from the harsh world outside.

Kangaroo Mother Care
Image showing a kangaroo carrying her young, hence the name Kangaroo Mother Care (Source)

NOTE: When it comes to KMC, the word ‘mother’ was included to place emphasis on the key role that a mother’s breast milk plays in ensuring the growth and development of the infant.

Where did Kangaroo Mother Care originate from?

While for many Kangaroo Mother Care may sound a little new, the idea of skin-to-skin care has been around for many years. KMC gained popularity globally after it was used by health care providers working in Colombia, South America. Following increased rates of child mortality in Bogota in 1978, Dr. Edgar Sanabria introduced a new method of caring for newborns in order to address the poor access to resources and shortage of caregivers (Source).

He recommended that mothers hold their newborn babies skin-to-skin in order to ensure they stayed warm, as well as to allow nursing as often as needed. With this practice, it was noted that fewer babies needed incubation, and continued to grow well.

With these new developments, the practice was introduced to many countries globally. KMC has also been the subject of numerous scientific studies, all of which show its great benefits and easy accessibility in low-resource settings.

The different components that make up Kangaroo Mother Care

Kangaroo Mother Care consists of four distinct parts. These are:

  1. The Kangaroo position
  2. Kangaroo nutrition
  3. Kangaroo support
  4. Kangaroo discharge

We will look at each of these parts in greater detail below.

Kangaroo position

The Kangaroo position is at the core of KMC as it is considered to be the optimal place for newborn babies to thrive. The infant is typically placed against the mother’s bare chest in an upright position, and usually between her breasts. More importantly, the baby is naked, save for a diaper or nappy, socks to cover the feet and a woollen cap to cover the head.

Both mother and child are covered by a warm blanket or shawl. This is done to keep both of them warm while allowing as much direct contact between the baby and the mother. When this is done correctly, newborns are seen to ‘crawl’ towards the nipple, an act which facilitates for easier nursing.

This video uploaded by Citizen TV shows moms at KNH practising Kangaroo Mother Care with the help of the nurses.

Kangaroo nutrition

Kangaroo nutrition encompasses exclusive breastfeeding as often as the infant needs to. This is made easier by the position described above as it allows for easy access to the breasts.  Depending on the infant’s condition, this may vary. For instance, preemies may require feeding through a nasogastric tube, while other infants may be nursed using expressd breast milk.

One of the key benefits of kangaroo nutrition is that there are higher rates of successful breastfeeding. Additionally, mothers who practice KMC may notice an increase in the amount of breast milk they produce.

Read More: 6 Practical Breastfeeding Tips for New Moms

Kangaroo Support

For successful Kangaroo Mother Care, it is important that mothers are given the support they need. This support is both physical and emotional, without which it becomes difficult for mothers to give skin-to-skin care successfully. There are a number of ways in which moms can receive this support.

  • Health care providers who are knowledgeable about the benefits of KMC are better able to support the new mother. They educate her and encourage her to ensure direct skin-to-skin contact with her infant as much as possible. It is also important to ensure that medical staff get the support they need in the hospital setting, particularly if KMC was not been practised before. With KMC being recommended as a low-cost and effective intervention for newborns, many health care facilities are now able to support new mothers for skin-to-skin contact.
  • Families play a great role in easing a woman’s transition to motherhood. In this regard, the whole family should be made aware of what Kangaroo Mother Care is, and practical ways in which they can support the new mother. Partners, children, mothers and in-laws of the new mother can all help to make Kangaroo Mother Care successful for her.
  • Community support is key when it comes to successful Kangaroo Mother Care for new mothers. In many African communities, new mothers depend on their families and communities to help care for their babies. Additionally, the community around a new mom plays role in assisting new mothers to recognize when their babies need to see a doctor or are unwell. With community support, new mothers can sustain KMC.

Kangaroo Discharge

Kangaroo discharge is the last component of Kangaroo Mother Care. Just as the name suggests, this happens when the new mother leaves the hospital for home. Typically, the mother is discharged with her newborn in the kangaroo position and KMC is continued at home, which is where Kangaroo support comes in. For preemies, however, adequate follow-up and medical care is essential for proper growth and development.

Read More: Premature Birth: Causes, Risk factors and Symptoms

Kangaroo Mother Care has great benefits for preemies

Kangaroo Mother Care is important for all newborns, but is particularly beneficial for preemies especially those born in low income settings. Typically, such settings lack adequate resources for neonatal care and skilled personnel. Consequently, it is not uncommon for babies to die as a result of hypothermia and/or infections. Through KMC, a mother is able to offer her newborn the warmth, nutrition and protection that she would give had the pregnancy proceeded normally.

According to WHO,

“there is adequate evidence that suggest KMC is a safe and effective alternative to conventional neonatal care, especially in under-resourced settings, and may reduce morbidity and mortality in low birth weight infants as well as increase breastfeeding.”

WHO also recommends that Kangaroo Mother Care is integrated into the care of preemies and newborns who weigh 2000 g or less at birth. KMC should be initiated immediately, or as soon as the newborn is medically stable. It is also recommended that this direct skin-to-skin contact is allowed for as continuously as is possible.

What are the advantages of Kangaroo Mother Care?

Kangaroo Mother Care has great advantages for, not just the mother and her baby, but also for families, health care providers and the community in general.

Benefits of Kangaroo Mother Care

For newborns:

  1. Newborns remain warm with KMC, and this helps stabilize their health.
  2. Infants who receive KMC grow faster because, while warm enough, the body channels energy it would use for warmth to helping the baby grow.
  3. Newborns who receive KMC are able to nurse better.

For the mother:

  1. Kangaroo Mother Care brings the mom and her newborn closer together, this encouraging bonding as early s possible.
  2. KMC promotes breastfeeding for new mothers.
  3. The new mother is empowered and supported to actively care for her newborn.
  4. For mothers who are predisposed to maternal mental illness, KMC has been shown to reduce the levels of stress and allowing for a positive experience.

For the father:

  1. Just like for mothers, KMC is also encouraged for fathers as it helps new dads to invest time and care for their newborns.
  2. KMC also improves the father-newborn bond as it gives the new dad a chance to know his child.

For health care providers:

  1. In the hospital setting, KMC allows for infants to thrive even in low-resource settings that lack neonatal care equipment.
  2. KMC is affordable, safe and easy to access.
  3. Barring serious medical complications for either the mother or baby, KMC allows for earlier discharge.

It is evident that Kangaroo Mother Care has great benefits for mothers, babies, families and communities. It is recommended that health care facilities where mothers deliver include KMC in their routine antenatal and postnatal clinics. Introducing KMC services to all hospitals where mothers deliver is imperative, and this requires support from all stakeholders – government, health care providers, professional bodies in maternal health as well as nongovernmental bodies.

Additional reading:

How Kangaroo Mother Care has improved newborn health outcomes and supported moms in Kenya (Link).

WHO recommendations for KMC to reduce morbidity and mortality in low-birth-weight infants (Link)

Kangaroo Mother Care (Link)

Thinking of signing up for classes as you await your baby’s arrival? Why not take our birth preparation classes from our trained caregivers? You can also sign up for our postnatal care classes for new mothers. Get in touch with us on 0709 256200, and we will match you with a Tunza Mama caregiver (normal tariffs apply).

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