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Kangaroo Care Not Just for Preemies

Photograph by Twenty20

It's well-documented that skin-to-skin contact (sometimes called "kangaroo care") right after birth and for the first few weeks of life is highly beneficial for premature infants, and also can benefit mom by reducing maternal stress and anxiety.

But now doctors say that full-term babies can also benefit from kangaroo care.

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Skin-to-skin contact has clear physical benefits for babies: it improves body temperature, lowers their heart rate, it can stabilize their blood pressure and they seem to cry less, according to doctors.

Babies that receive kangaroo care are also better able to breastfeed, and moms are able to breastfeed them for longer periods of time. It's no secret that breastfeeding has been shown to have many health benefits, some lasting into adulthood. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least the first six months, and through the first year of life if possible, because it can help reduce infants’ risk of asthma, ear infections, lower respiratory infections, eczema, type 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia and childhood obesity.

But there's more: Kangaroo care also has long-term benefits for both mom and baby.

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In a 2013 study of premature newborns, researchers split the moms into two groups: Half were instructed to do kangaroo care an hour a day for two weeks, the other half did not have skin-to-skin contact with their babies. Researchers did follow-up tests on the same children 10 years later and found that the kids who received kangaroo care as infants "slept better, showed better hormonal responses to stress, had a more mature nervous system and better overall thinking skills than those [who] spent their days in an incubator." Interestingly, researchers also said the mothers who practiced kangaroo care reported having a closer relationship with their kids than moms who didn't bond with their babies in skin-to-skin contact.

Even if skin-to-skin costs you extra on your hospital bill after a C-section, it's clearly worth it.

Delaying cutting the umbilical cord while doing skin-to-skin contact after birth, even for as little as one minute, is also beneficial to your baby's health, doctors say, and it's becoming more and more popular. The cord is left attached to allow blood from the placenta to reach the baby, and increases the baby's iron storage and lets other nutrients from mom continue to be shared with baby just a little longer.

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