First contact with the baby, feelings and emotions. Kangaroo care
A well-known fact is the extreme importance of the first contact between the mother and the baby. The mother is recommended to embrace her baby immediately after birth, which facilitates the newborn’s adaptation to the outside world and strengthens the bond between the two. Premature birth, however, is often accompanied by complications, which do not allow this to happen because of the importance of a number of medical procedures aimed at stabilising the physical condition of the baby and the young mother.
Many mothers who are aware of the importance of the first contact due to the ample information on the Internet and the tons of specialised literature in the country, or just feel intuitively that they have to cuddle their baby immediately after birth, feel strong frustration, anger or disappointment that they cannot do it because of the baby’s earlier arrival. In time, these emotions may often develop into accusations against the hospital staff or into sense of guilt for not having been able to do things in the best possible way. These experiences are often enhanced because of the strict hospital requirements for care for the baby’s life, which do not allow daily or lasting contact between the mother and the baby, when the latter is in the NICU.
In Bulgaria, there is an Ordinance of the Ministry of Health (Ordinance No 16 of 1996, Section VI. Patients’ Rights and Obligations), which allows the parents of a child up to the age of 14 to accompany him/her during his/her hospital stay, but this appears difficult to achieve in practice. It is important to know however that the Law on Health stipulates those young mothers and their newborn infants have the right to ‘optimal living environment’ in the physical, psychological and social aspects, and have the right to be informed and to make decisions on every aspect of the care given to their children.
It is good to know that although very important, the difficult first contact in case of premature birth is not as fatal as it may seem to you now and what is most important is that it can be restored with time. The so-called Kangaroo Care helps a lot in this. The Kangaroo Care appeared in Columbia in the 70s of the 20th century and it involves a facilitated skin-to-skin contact between the mother or another family member and the baby. At times, this method is called ‘womb outside the body’.
In Bulgaria, Kangaroo Care is increasingly opted for in neonatal unit. However, it is a pity that this method is not a common practice yet and its application is rather an exception. Nevertheless, do not give up and ask for information about whether it is practiced in the ward where you are.
Before you try the skin-to-skin contact, consult with the medical staff if the baby is well enough. If everything is all right, make a joint plan for the time and place where to do it. If the baby still has breathing problems, in some cases it is possible to apply Kangaroo Care with careful planning and only with the medical staff’s assistance in order to be completely safe. If possible, they will help you by holding the apparatuses while you are cuddling the baby.
Kangaroo Care can be performed by both of the parents and it is a way of creating a bond between the father and the baby.
Here are some facts about Kangaroo Care:
- Babies who have had the chance of benefiting from Kangaroo Care stabilise faster than those who have only been cared for in incubator. This certainly does not mean that if they have only been taken care of in incubator, they do not have a chance to survive, just the opposite – modern and quality technology is their greatest chance.
- Kangaroo Care helps babies stabilise and improve their breathing due to the mother’s stable breathing.
- The baby’s heart rate stabilises (the mother’s heart regulates the baby’s heart).
- The baby’s temperature is regulated the best on the mother’s breasts. Through the skin-to-skin contact the mother automatically warms up the premature baby who cannot regulate his/her body temperature yet and does not have enough subcutaneous fat that can preserve it.
- Kangaroo Care often leads to reducing the length of stay in the hospital and the need for expensive health services, increasing the parent’s participation and possibilities for education and better use of the funds for health care.
- Kangaroo Care is recommended by the World Health Organisation.
- Skin-to-skin contact can be practised after the baby’s discharge from the hospital, at home – this practice has a number of beneficial effects in terms of the bond between the parents and the baby, as well as many other benefits with regard to breastfeeding.
During the first days after the birth, the parents often ask themselves questions like ‘Why did this happen to us? What can we do? Is out child well and does he/she receive the best care? Who is to blame for this?’
When the baby spends days and at times even months in the neonatal unit, the worries intensify. Although being fully understandable and normal, worries help too little for the parents’ mental recovery. They often tend to compare themselves to other parents, to take the lack of security as deliberate misinformation. In addition, they are engulfed by sadness or anger.
Seeing the child for the first time – ‘Is this my child?’
The child’s prolonged stay in the intensive care unit often prevents the mother and father from seeing him/her immediately after birth and when this happens, it can cause a wide range of reactions in the parents. Some mothers immediately start feeling tenderness and love for the tiny creature. On the other hand, others experience various and more complex feelings on meeting their premature baby for the first time, which, although confusing, are completely normal.
The child’s earlier birth is an unexpected event and many parents find it unnatural to feel attachment to a child who was so much in a hurry to appear. Others realise that the fragile baby in the incubator, who looks unreally small and nearly lost in the diaper, and who is often attached to medical equipment facilitating his/her breathing, eating and physiological functions, does not look at all like the plump rosy babies they have seen previously. They may feel confused and frightened, and may find it difficult to accept the child. To still others, the very birth may have been a very traumatic event and they even do not want to see the baby or they seem not to feel any emotions at all at the sight of him/her. All these and many other reactions are completely real and possible, and if you are a premature baby’s parent, it is important to know that it is normal to feel like this. Do not blame yourself for having ‘dark thoughts’. It is better to be aware of yourself better instead, and know that it is human to suffer and feel confused.