Skin to skin and kangaroo care

Close up looking down from above dad's head who has baby on chest doing skin to skin care

Premature and sick babies undergo many medical procedures that can cause them some discomfort. As your baby’s parents, you are the best people to balance this with a positive, reassuring touch.

Positive touch is a way of communicating your love and reassurance to your baby and hearing your baby’s needs in return. Babies do communicate, and by watching and listening to your baby you can learn what kind of touch to use and when it is appropriate, safe and pleasurable for your baby.

It’s harder for your baby to communicate when exposed to too much noise, too much light, too much cool air, or an uncomfortable lying position. See whether the environment can be calmed down first. In time, you will get to know your baby’s individual ways and you may find your baby responding more often and for longer.

Comfort holding

Comfort holding is one of many ways for you and your baby to get to know each other. Your baby may be more comfortable lying in the incubator than being held. In this case, the staff may suggest that you try comfort holding if they think your baby is well enough. Comfort holding is ‘still touch’. Cradling your baby with still, resting hands can be more comforting than stroking or massage, which are more stimulating.

Comfort holding can:

  • soothe your baby during uncomfortable procedures.
  • settle a restless baby.
  • help your baby to get back to sleep after feeds and care.
  • encourage your baby to be quietly awake and responsive.

Comfort holding is a way to experience loving touch when your baby is not ready to be held.

Talk to your baby’s nurse about comfort holding. Together you can watch for signs from your baby that will guide you as to when and how to do it.

Be careful to:

  • Remove watches and jewellery, pull your sleeves up to the elbows, and wash your hands and lower arms. This reduces the risk of infection inside the incubator.
  • Always make sure that your hands are warm before touching your baby.
  • If your baby has difficulty keeping warm, make sure there is a layer of fabric (a hat, vest or blanket) between you.
  • Speak to your baby before touching, so that they are aware of your presence before you start.
  • Cradle one or both hands around your baby’s feet, head or body, and keep them still. Your baby may also like to grasp one of your fingers.
  • Wait and watch for signs that tell you that your baby is relaxed.

You can continue for as long as you are both comfortable. When you finish comfort holding, move your hands away from your baby very slowly.

Kangaroo Care

Kangaroo Care is skin-to-skin contact when a baby is placed against the parent’s chest. Benefits include improvements with lactation and with establishing breastfeeding, and better weight gain for the baby. In the longer term, it helps parents to feel closer to their babies and more confident in caring for them. Kangaroo Care can be used with babies with high medical needs, but this will require careful planning and collaboration with the neonatal staff.

Talk to staff and plan a good time and comfortable place for you to try Kangaroo Care.

While Kangaroo Care is based on direct skin-to-skin contact, removing your baby’s clothes is not vital if this is upsetting for him or her. A hat and a blanket for extra warmth might be necessary for very small babies.

Hold your baby chest-to-chest tucked inside your clothes, enclosing him/her to keep his/her temperature stable. Check that the head is well supported and if you can’t see your baby easily, try using a hand mirror.

Explore what you both like to enjoy together. Some babies like to have their eyes shielded, others like to be sung to softly or while having a tube feed. Allow time for your baby to settle and get the full benefit.

If you baby is happy, you can cuddle for as long as you are both comfortable. Lie back, relax and enjoy.

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Skin-to-skin with your baby

Download our guide and learn about the benefits of skin-to-skin with your baby and the steps to doing it successfully (PDF).