First off – Happy Five Weeks to Mr. August William. It’s been a quite week for August – lots of sleeping, eating, and breathing. Exactly what he should be doing. Though August transitioned from one type of breathing support (NIPV) to another (CPAP) last weekend, he ended up back on NIPV due to an unsuccessful wean of the CPAP pressure. The Doctors will give him more time before the next transition to less breathing support. August is the boss, and when he says he’s not ready we just change the plan. He also had his first eye exam this week and handled it like a champ! Results are that his eyes are immature (what do you know!) but nothing concerning yet. He’ll be on the schedule for regular eye exams every other week. And we haven’t reached the 3 lb milestone Mom was hoping for this week. August’s growth has been described as sluggish. We’re not sure where it’s going since he’s digesting everything and has very minimal spit ups. But again, all babies are different and they’ve upped his caloric intake per ounce to help him out. This week though, has been full of lots of kangaroo care, a very positive part of the NICU experience.
Let’s talk about kangaroo care, also known as skin to skin. Kangaroo care (KC) is the practice of holding your baby, in just a diaper, against your bare chest for a period of time, and is discussed most often when talking about birth plans. It’s extremely common now to hold your diapered baby immediately after birth, before being swaddled or weighed, or a whole bunch of other things newborns receive after the ride of a life time. If I would have had the opportunity to prepare a birth plan, I would have included skin to skin, but not for the reasons I know about now. I would have included skin to skin for very selfish reasons. It was my plan to do anything it takes to establish breastfeeding and KC allows your baby to make his or her way to the breast to feed shortly after birth. I also wanted the prize (the baby) of the marathon known as labor. Knowing myself though, I would have KCed my baby for those first few hours, then demanded a shower, my own clothes, and likely would have been hesitant to strip down again to continue KC bonding. Plus, aren’t babies supposed to wear cute clothes and be all swaddled up?
On December 13th, I didn’t have a birth plan, but even if I did, I wouldn’t have gotten to KC my baby, he had to be rushed to the NICU, and he won’t be able to feed from the breast or bottle for about another month. Yet – Matt and I kangaroo August everyday. It’s talked about here and on other websites that KC has tremendous medical benefits for preterm babies, and psychological benefits for NICU parents.
My first opportunity to hold August was for an hour-long kangaroo session on his fourth day. We were limited to an hour because of his need to be under the billirubin lights. It was an amazing sixty minutes. Kangaroo care does so much more for babies, term or preterm, than I ever thought about. A mother’s hormones are programmed to regulate the body temperature of her baby, much more precisely than any incubator can manage. When I hold August he is always a perfect temp when we put him back. It is also a way for us to bond, smell each other, he feels safe because he recognizes the smells and the sounds my voice and body make from when he was inside. He sleeps better after KC, and does a better job maintaining his stats. And it’s an incredible bonding experience for both mom and dad that is important for the entire family as the little one grows up.
During this stage of August’s care we are now able to hold him for three hours at a time once a day. It’s best to avoid disturbing preemies as much as possible, so kangaroo care is schedule around his care times. We pick him up when he’s awake after a diaper change, and hold him until the next one three hours later. Some people have commented, how can we hold him that long, don’t we get bored? Honestly the time goes by so fast and we just enjoy every second. I hold him during the week because I am working less, and Matt holds him on the weekends. During that time we dim the lights in the room, sometimes play music, keep cell phones away and off, always sing to him, and just stare at him with the hand mirror we use while enjoying the closeness it allows. It’s way better than looking at him through a plastic box.
Knowing what I know now about the benefits and experience of kangaroo care I’d still include it in a birth plan, but I’d also incorporate it as a daily routine in or out of the hospital with any newborn.
I also hope my description of kangaroo care paints more of a picture of what it’s like in the NICU for parents. Thankfully, not many people experience the inside of a neonatal intensive care unit. As we’ve mentioned before, there are lots of scary alarms, but there is also lots of dim lights, private quiet time, and snuggles.