kangara-careAt the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach, skin-to-skin care is an evidence-based practice where the neonate is placed on the bare chest of their caregiver. Skin-to-skin or sometimes referred to as “kangaroo care” has been proven to benefit the premature baby’s development by stabilizing a baby’s heart rate, improving their breathing and sleep patterns, supporting family bonding, and decreasing the number of days in the hospital.

“In the NICU, skin-to-skin care involves placing a diaper-clad, premature infant in an upright position on a parent’s bare chest – belly side down – with the infant’s head turned so that the ear is above the parent’s heart,” says Karen Schwarz, pediatric rehabilitation therapist, NICU, Miller Children’s & Women’s. “Skin-to-skin Care, is safe and beneficial even if the infant is connected to high-tech equipment.”

Usually, the practice of skin-to-skin happens immediately after the baby is delivered, and parents are encouraged to continue to practice skin-to-skin even after the delivery. Organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, encourage the practice of skin-to-skin.

At Miller Children’s & Women’s, the NICU care team celebrates and encourages skin-to-skin care through the annual Kangaroo-a-thon, which takes place every year in May. This year, from Monday, May 15 until Sunday, May 21, patients will be practicing skin-to-skin, while NICU care team members and physicians help guide and answer any questions parents may have.

During the Kangaroo-a-thon every time a parent holds their baby skin-to-skin or provides a hand hug, for babies who are unable to be held, the care team will leave a little paper kangaroo by their crib. A hand hug is when a caregiver places one hand on the infant’s head and the other hand on their feet or over their arms/tummy. The paper kangaroo indicates how many times in the day they have been held.

“We work closely with our families to ensure that their babies are thriving while in the NICU,” says Schwarz. “One of the ways we do this is through the kangaroo-a-thon. By encouraging families to hold their babies or hand hug them improves family bonding and baby’s overall health while in the NICU. Seeing families spend quality time with their babies is such an amazing experience.”

Miller Children’s & Women’s is a level IV NICU – which is the highest designation available by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Being a level IV NICU means Miller Children’s & Women’s has the advanced capabilities, along with skilled specialists, to care for sick and critically ill, and premature babies. A benefit of Miller Children’s & Women’s is that the Cherese Mari Laulhere BirthCare Center, and its high-risk pregnancy program are all under one roof –allowing mom and baby to stay together. They aren’t separated or transferred to another hospital. The NICU treats nearly 1,200 critically ill and premature babies each year and is home to the largest Small Baby Program in the region to care for extremely low birthweight babies in an environment mimicking the womb.