Closeness between small children and parents – why skin contact?

Kerstin Hedberg Nyqvist, paediatric nurse, Associate Professor, Uppsala University

The Kangaroo Method

At the end of the 1970s doctors at a neonatal ward in Colombia developed a way of looking after small babies who were unable to maintain their temperature. The mother has her baby naked with only a diaper and maybe a hat on, skin-to-skin between her breasts under her clothes, all day long. The baby receives its mother’s milk (if possible) in frequent feeds through breastfeeding or using a feeding tube/cup/spoon. When the mother feels secure in taking care of her baby, they go home from the hospital, and come back on frequent follow-up visits. The father/other close relatives also take part in kangaroo care, which is terminated when the child no longer needs it. The keywords for the method are warmth, breast milk and love.

The method has spread in low-income countries. In industrial countries it is applied primarily as periods of skin contact between the mother/father and child. Research into the method has shown that children are physiologically stable, maintain their temperature, are calmer and cry less; the mother can start breastfeeding more easily and parents experience that they get to know their baby and become secure in their parental role. The closeness also facilitates the baby’s bonding to its parents. The original method has now begun to be introduced in countries such as Sweden. The method is recommended by the World Health Organization, not only for small babies but also for full-term sick babies in hospitals.

A precondition for the method is that parents have comfortable and safe clothes that give support to the child. They should be able to sit, walk around, lie down and rest or sleep (with the head raised), cook food and eat, read and work with their hands etc. with the child skin-to-skin, without needing to support the child with their hands.