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Kangaroo Care Day: The importance of maintaining skin-to-skin contact for mum and baby during the COVID crisis

3 minutes

29/04/2021

Midwife, Marie-Louise

Expert midwife, Marie Louise, shares her advice and the benefits of skin-to-skin contact, as part of Kangaroo Care Day, while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Benefits of Kangaroo Care

Kangaroo care, otherwise known as skin-to-skin, is a key element in maternity, neonatal and premature baby care. Immediate and ongoing skin-to-skin contact provides both physiological and psychological benefits to all newborn neonates.1

Research suggests that skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby immediately after birth is hugely important in helping the newborn adjust to life outside the womb.1 This kangaroo care technique also benefits partners, with it being linked to them developing a deep emotional bond with their child, helping reduce parental anxiety and increasing the baby’s environmental stimulation.2

Benefits of Kangaroo Care:

  • Regulating baby’s breathing, heart rate, oxygen levels and temperature

  • Helping with breastfeeding

  • Minimising maternal breast engorgement

  • Keeping the baby warm and calm

  • Decreasing the chance of postnatal depression

  • Helping parents to feel confident looking after their newborn

A mother practicing kangaroo care with her baby

Research has also shown that infants who are separated from their mothers have higher respiratory rates and lower glucose levels than infants who receive skin-to-skin.1. Kangaroo care is also associated with reduced mortality and improved health outcomes for preterm, small and unwell newborn infants.2

How has COVID-19 impacted skin-to-skin contact?

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the implementation of hygiene measures that focus on limiting infection rates, which include some changes to how parents might engage in kangaroo care. This can cause additional worry and confusion for new parents.

Changes including social distancing, lockdown and isolation have created challenges and further complications for many families. A Royal College of Midwives report stated that, together, they pose a risk to immediate, close and loving contact between the mother and newborn infant, as well as with the other parent and wider family.3

In the same report it is noted that in some instances, mother-baby contact has been reported as being reduced or stopped. 40% of UK infant feeding services in a recent (unpublished) survey reported that staffing has reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 30% report that parental access to neonatal units is ‘very restricted’.3

Despite these restrictions, the World Health Organization still advises mothers to continue to share a room with their babies from birth, to breastfeed (if able) and practice kangaroo care – even when COVID-19 infections are suspected or confirmed.4 Separating mothers from their infants, especially in the context of a pandemic, has the potential to cause significant physiologic stress and anxiety, both to mum and baby.

How can healthcare professionals support new mothers during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Guidelines from the Royal College of Midwives encourages healthcare professionals to support parents with kangaroo care, advising that separating healthy and non-symptomatic mothers and babies should be avoided to help reduce anxiety and fear.

It is so important that healthcare professionals do all they can to encourage parents to feel confident to take part in kangaroo care practices and to try to relieve any concerns by highlighting the benefits of kangaroo care early on. Parents should also feel encouraged to continue kangaroo care when they go home to facilitate bonding and breastfeeding.

Despite the ongoing pandemic and restrictions caused by COVID-19, parents should be reassured that their birth will be as normal as possible and advised that all types of delivery can lead to skin-to-skin, even after a caesarean section or assisted birth, where the mother has an epidural anaesthetic. It should be made clear to new parents that kangaroo care is still encouraged, safe to do and has numerous benefits for both mother and baby.

For more information on skin-to-skin contact, and a baby’s skin care journey during the first three months, check out Dr Stephanie Ooi’s advice.

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References
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1. Moore ER, Bergman N, Anderson GC, et al. Early skin-to skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2016;11:CD003519

2. Wang Y.-H., Kuo H.-H. The nursing experience in helping an unmarried adolescence girl to care for her premature infant. Journal of Nursing. 2006;53(5):76–83.

3. Royal College of Midwives report, Optimising mother-baby contact and infant feeding in a pandemic; 2020, available from: https://www.rcm.org.uk/media/4142/ optimising-mother-baby-contact-and-infant-feeding-in-a-pandemic-version-2-final-24th-june-2020.pdf : Last accessed April 2021

4. World Health Organization, New research highlights risks of separating newborns from mothers during COVID-19 pandemic, March 2021, available from: https://www. who.int/news/item/16-03-2021-new-research-highlights-risks-of-separating-newborns-from-mothers-during-covid-19-pandemic Last accessed April 2021

About the Author

Midwife, Marie-Louise

Marie-Louise, the Modern Midwife, is an expert Midwife and author. Alongside her professional interest, Marie-Louise has personal experience of practicing kangaroo care with her little girl and has been regularly documenting her experiences of parenthood on her Instagram.

Marie-Louise advising on kangaroo care’

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