kangara-careIn 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 parent. Skin-to-skin or “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, optimizing brain development, and decreasing the number of days in the hospital.

“Skin-to-skin care is a neuroprotective and neuropromotive strategy that provides vast benefits to both babies and their families,” says Karen Schwarz, physical therapist and NICU rehab lead, Miller Children’s & Women’s. “Skin-to-skin care is beneficial for even the smallest and most fragile babies in the NICU.”

The goal of skin-to-skin is “early, frequent and prolonged” and is encouraged throughout the NICU journey. Skin-to-skin care is for all babies, big and small.  Organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, encourage the practice of skin-to-skin.

International Kangaroo Care Awareness Day is May 15th and at Miller Children’s & Women’s, the NICU care team celebrates and encourages skin-to-skin care through the annual Kangaroo-a-thon. This year, from Monday, May 15 until Sunday, May 21, babies and their families participated in skin-to-skin, while NICU care team members and physicians helped guide and answer any questions parents had.

During the Kangaroo-a-thon, every time a parent held their baby skin-to-skin or provided a hand hug, for babies who are unable to be held, the parent wrote their baby’s name and the date on a little paper kangaroo. 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 to support positive touch. The kangaroos were hung on the wall and raffle winners were drawn once the event was completed. 

“The Kangaroo-a-thon is an opportunity to celebrate the great work that is happening in our unit year-round," says Schwarz. "The entire NICU care team supports skin-to-skin care and recognizes the benefits for babies and their families. Skin-to-skin care is truly the best medicine!”

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. An additional benefit of Miller Children’s & Women’s is that the Cherese Mari Laulhere BirthCare Center, its high-risk pregnancy program and the NICU 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.