When becoming a new parent, best practices, guidelines, and all of the “must-do’s” flood our mind. All mom’s and dad’s want the best for their children. I find peace in getting back to basics and focusing on two simple acts: Kangaroo care and Breastfeeding. Both of these can be practiced whether a parent takes their newborn home shortly after birth or for those trying to learn how to be mom and dad in a NICU setting.
Kangaroo care is an endearing term used to describe skin-to-skin holding. This snuggle time has benefits for both mom, dad and baby. The newborn benefits from skin-to-skin holding because they learn their parents’ scents. The sense of smell is the first to develop and is quite strong, which is why many encourage the use of scent cloths. Additionally, the baby’s vitals mimic those of the person, which is holding them and can help to regulate their heart and respiration rates. When mom is caring for her baby this way, the infant can be soothed by the sound of her heartbeat since it is what they heard for many months while in utero. Kangaroo care can foster quality sleep for infants. This is why it is typically done for at least 90 minutes at a time. We know that sleep is critical for a newborn, or preemie because it encourages both growth and healing. If time is of the essence, swaddling and hold the baby is also beneficial and many hospitals have “cuddlers” who are happy to help.
Kangaroo care also benefits parents as a unique bonding experience. One is able to simply hold, love and adore their baby. This is also a great time to sing, read or gently speak to the baby while they drift to sleep. A mother can specifically benefit from this practice because oxytocin is released during infant bonding.
Oxytocin is known as a love hormone, but plays a significant role in building, maintaining and letting down a mother’s milk. It also can cause uterine contractions that help the uterus return to its normal state. Therefore, it is evident how the first act leads to our second- breastfeeding.
The breast is best! Breast milk is often referred to as “liquid gold,” due to its nutritional superiority over other methods of feeding. A mother’s milk may vary in composition of nutrients, but on average it is 4.5 % fat, 7.1 % carbohydrate and 0.8-0.9 % protein. It is produced in the body by the mammary glands by pulling sugar, protein, cholesterol and other nutrients from the mother’s bloodstream. Therefore, good nutrition is also very important during the “4th trimester.” Most hospitals recommend fortifying breast milk to increase the calories from the natural 20 calories per ounce, to 22-24 calories per ounce. These fortifiers can also supplement the baby with much needed vitamins and minerals.
Breast milk is also unique because it contains IgA, or Immunoglobulin A, which is critical to helping to build the infant’s immune system. IgA is quite high in breast milk from day 10 through the 7th month. Additionally, if the mother is breastfeeding, the child can expose the mother to their bacteria and in turn the mother will create antibodies to fight the bacteria, which in turn will be delivered back to the baby via the breast milk.
I have never breast-fed; I have only pumped, but I certainly hope to in the future. The act of breastfeeding is a remarkable bonding experience that also provides an outlet for giving the infant attention. Pumping, with a caretaker present, is also not bad and can grant mother’s a few minutes alone to think, pray, or even grab a quick snack. Another benefit of breast feeding for mothers is that it can foster post-partum weight loss to help the mother achieve a healthier weight after pregnancy. Typically, mothers burn 300 to 500 Calories when breastfeeding or pumping 8 times per day, or every 3 hours. Again, it increases oxytocin which assists the uterus in returning to normal size. For further tips and information on breastfeeding, visit La Leche League.
Both of the acts described above may be simple on paper, but more difficult to practice in daily life. I hope the benefits listed above encourage mom’s and dad’s to explore these ways to attend to, bond and communicate with their baby.