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For Babies with Congenital Heart Disease, Skin-to-skin Contact Proves Safe and Beneficial

Research from Penn Nursing and CHOP argues that for this population, “kangaroo care” can and should become routine.

Skin-to-skin contact between a baby wearing just a diaper and a parent with a bare chest has scientifically proven physiological benefits for infants. They’re less likely to intermittently stop breathing. Their heart rate and blood sugar are less likely to drop to dangerous levels. Their body temperature is better regulated, and for mothers who want to breastfeed, this connection—also called kangaroo care—helps facilitate the transition to direct breastfeeding.

Yet kangaroo care isn’t always standard practice, particularly for sick infants.  

“We’ve been doing skin-to-skin at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for more than 20 years. It’s commonplace in our neonatal intensive care unit,” says Diane Spatz of Penn’s School of Nursing and CHOP. “The Cardiac Center was slower to embrace this technique.

It’s something Amy Jo Lisanti, a nurse scientist at CHOP researched as a postdoctoral fellow. She examined kangaroo care as a method to reduce stress and facilitate parent-child bonding for babies with congenital heart disease. She is also a clinical nurse specialist at CHOP, and through that role began developing strategies to increase use of kangaroo care in the Cardiac Center. This included an eight-week Kangaroo-a-Thon resulting in dozens of skin-to-skin interactions.

In a new paper published in MCN: The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing analyzing how these approaches worked, Lisanti, Spatz, and colleagues show that it’s safe and effective to incorporate skin-to-skin care into the treatment of newborns with congenital heart disease. Beyond that, they argue it should become a standard of care.

This is an excerpt from a story that was originally published on Penn Today. It was written by Science News Officer Michele Berger. Click here to read the entire version.