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July 23, 2024

Where Every Family Matters

Kangaroo-a-Thon at Vanderbilt Benefits Newborns, Moms and Families

A Kangaroo-a-thon in the NICU May 1 - 15 highlights the many benefits of skin-to-skin contact for the tiniest of babies.

The wonderful feeling of closeness. The rich security of warmth and assurance. The absence of stress, anxiety and fear. Aren't these the things we want for babies? If Kangaroo Care can do this for the tiniest and sickest of newborns, then we should be all in, and not just for preemies; for ALL babies.

That's why Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt is currently in the middle of a two-week Kangaroo-a-thon. Part of the annual nationwide Kangaroo Challenge launched five years ago by Sunnybrook Hospital in Canada, the Challenge (which started May 1 and wraps up May 15) puts the spotlight on the incredible benefits that skin-to-skin care brings to babies in the neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU). Typically involving prolonged skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby, today Kangaroo Care has evolved to include dads, grandparents and other family members who may want to take part. All it takes is a reclining bed or chair.


Stephanie Attarian, M.D., assistant professor of clinical pediatrics in the Neonatology Division at Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, says Kangaroo Care helps babies in the NICU grow faster and sleep more deeply, while allowing moms and dads to
bond with their infants.

For the Kangaroo-a-thon, Attarian says Vanderbilt lactation consultants spearhead efforts by making the rounds in the NICU and retrieving diapered newborns (and their breathing tubes) from the cocoon-like safety of their incubators to place them on the warm skin between their mom's breasts. A
light blanket or Mom's top goes on top to provide additional warmth for the baby. Attarian says one-hour sessions are the goal, but longer is even better, and the benefits of Kangaroo Care are endless.

"Most benefits revolve around the baby's feelings of safety, warmth and
comfort," Attarian says, "but they also include increased breast-feeding rates,
less stress hormones and babies spending more time in deep sleep and quiet instead of crying," she adds. Other benefits for babies include improved body temperature regulation and stabilized breathing rates.

Attarian also confirms the research that long-term advantages impact brain and emotional development for babies, too. While Kangaroo Care with NICU babies may pose a challenge, the benefits far outweigh them. New moms, dads and other family members welcome the chance to play a significant role in helping their babies grow.

Kangaroo Care has been in place at Vanderbilt for more than 10 years, and Attarian says it's beneficial for ALL babies whether they're in the NICU, the well-nursery or at home during the early first months.

Kangaroo Care — which doesn't cost a dime — is supported by scientific data and while doing it, moms, dads, grandparents and others literally take the place of incubators by naturally regulating their babies' temperature and breathing.

And no, holding infants for prolonged periods of time is not going to spoil them.

"The best place for infants to be is near their mom," Attarian says. "And Kangaroo Care is the best way to achieve that."


For the duration of the Kangaroo Challenge at Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, moms and babies taking part in the Kangaroo-a-thon get to enjoy a little friendly competition.

"It's a little contest," says Attarian. "Parents log the amount of time they spend doing Kangaroo Care and whoever wins gets a small prize at the end of the day," she adds.

But a Kangaroo Care prize can't hold a candle to what parents want most: a healthy and stabilized baby well enough to regulate himself and go home. Kangaroo Care helps to achieve that goal faster. THAT's the real prize.


• Helps babies stay warm
• Keeps heart rate and breathing regular
• Helps babies to gain weight
• Babies spend more time in deep sleep
• Babies spend more time quiet and less time crying
• Babies have a better chance at breastfeeding


• Make more breast milk
• Reduce stress
• Helps you build confidence to take care of your baby
• Helps with bonding

SOURCE: March of Dimes


About the Author

Susan Swindell Day, Editor

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.