New research out of the University of South Australia (UniSA) examining how fathers’ bond with their premature babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) has confirmed the benefits of skin-to-skin contact for critically-ill term babies.
Researchers documented the experiences of fathers holding their premature babies against their bare chest in a pouch-like position, which is known as kangaroo care. The method mimics how a joey finds warmth, comfort and sense of security inside it’s mother pouch and close to the mother’s heartbeat.
Practiced in neo-natal wards globally, the kangaroo care method, sees mothers holding their newborn babies against their bare skin, aiding in the neurodevelopment of the infant and helping build a bond between mother and child.
Previous research has shown that skin-to-skin contact activates nerve receptors in mammals, sparking certain hormones which reduce pain and stress for both baby and parent.
While the benefits of kangaroo care practiced between mothers and infants has been recognised, there has been little research to date into whether the same benefits can be found when kangaroo care is practiced by fathers.
Registered nurse and UniSA Masters candidate, Sophia Dong, says that while mothers are considered the dominant kangaroo care providers, traditional family structures have changed in recent decades and fathers have long been overlooked.
“We know that kangaroo care provides a variety of benefits for pre-term, low birth weight infants, including lowering mortality rates, reduced infections, higher rates of breast feeding, calmer babies and enhancing bonding,” Dong said.
Father’s who took part in the study reported having a ‘silent language of love and connection’ with their infant when they adopted the kangaroo care model.
“The fathers described the NICU environment as ‘overwhelming’ initially causing them to feel anxious and powerless, but the close contact with their baby through kangaroo care fostered strong bonds with their infants. This in turn relaxed them and built their confidence,” Dong said.