‘Kangaroo Care’ helps parents bond with their NICU babies

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Brenna Denney hold her son, Gavin, to her chest. It's a rare treat. His mother must devide her time between triplets who were born prematurely. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Brenna Denney hold her son, Gavin, to her chest. It's a rare treat. His mother must devide her time between triplets who were born prematurely. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

There’s a contest going on — a really small one — for parents whose babies are spending their first days, weeks, and months in the NICU, the neonatal intensive care unit at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

This week and next, parents are competing for gift cards and goody baskets as they increase the amount of time they spend “skin-to-skin” with their babies. It’s called “Kangaroo Care,” and it’s beneficial in a number of ways.

“Essentially, the babies are the bosses here; they tell us what to do,” said Brenna Denney, the mother of triplets. “The nurses, I joke around, are the gatekeepers. They tell me which one is ready to be held, so I try to split the time between three.”

Denney’s triplets — Gavin, Aden, and Ella — are preemies delivered at CHOP at only 24 weeks. They’ve lived in climate-controlled Isolettes since their birth 8 weeks ago. Each infant nestles in special fabric that coils around them — to simulate the warmth and confinement of a mother’s womb.

“The minute they hear my voice, they vie for my attention,” Denney said. “Back and forth, back and forth. The touch, the sound of my voice, puts them at ease. According to the nurses, they can feel that I’m here.”

This attention, the skin-to-skin bond, has many physical and emotional benefits for the babies.

“The benefits range from helping their physiological stability — so helping maintain their heart rate at a normal level,” said Suzanne Shepard, a physical therapist at CHOP. “Their breathing rates. All the way to things like improving the mother’s milk production and improving breast feeding.

“There are also tons of benefits out there for baby’s mood,” she added. “They spend less time crying. But for parents, it really is a positive experience and one of the most normal things they can do in an abnormal environment.”

For more on CHOP’s Kangaroo Care, press play at the top of the page.

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