Last week Jill was doula at a birth of a baby born too soon, 29 weeks gestation (should be 40). Sadly, the awareness of Kangaroo Care was totally absent in that hospital. The parents were not allowed even to touch their baby, and they were actively discouraged from being present. The resulting hours and days were distressful and traumatising for that baby, her mother and her father, and not least for Jill, who does have Total Awareness of Kangaroo Care. Baby is doing okay on a ventilator, but is also experiencing ongoing extreme stress.

Cortisol levels have been measured in such babies, and found to be ten times the safe limit. If such high levels are injected into rabbits, parts of the brain dies off (hippocampus is especially sensitive). We now also know that high and continuous cortisol acts on epigenes, changing the switches on various genes that will remain for life. This matches a host of developmental disorders, which have been well-documented to be increased in preterm born infants, all of whom experience this old-school kind of technological care, devoid of human contact. Our baby has wonderful parents who will give their utmost to compensate for this rocky start in the months and years to come.

The point is however, that skin-to-skin contact is what the baby is expecting, along with mother’s smell. These two sensations are absolutely necessary for the baby to know that he/she is safe, so that sleep cycling can take place, and active suckling on the breast and later digestion of food. John Lind, Professor of Paediatrics in Sweden, wrote in 1979: “ … the greatest discovery in the field of paediatrics in my time, is the concept that the newborn child is a small human being, with all its senses developed, open and receptive”. The smaller the newborn child, the greater the need for human contact, for gentleness and respect. Central to this is Mother, we prefer to call this KANGAROO MOTHER CARE.

Thirty years ago, it was standard practice to do major surgery on preterm neonates without anaesthesia. We now think that was barbaric.    In thirty years time, the situation that our little family described above is experiencing, will be dismissed as totally barbaric.

Actually worse: even barbarians would never treat their children like we do now.

Roll on Kangaroo Care Awareness – perhaps it won’t take thirty years for civilised care to be restored.