I’m sharing today’s blog post with you as part of Science & Sensibility and Giving Birth with Confidence’s Blogging Carnival. This year’s theme focuses on “Keeping Mothers and babies together after birth.” In keeping with this theme, I want to focus on the influence Kangaroo Care can have on the prevention/relief of Postpartum Depression. If you’re here from the Carnival, welcome. If you’re a regular reader – enjoy! Either way, thrilled to have you here.
When I first became a mother, I had never heard about Kangaroo Care. My daughter, however, liked to be held next to my chest, resting her head on my bare skin as she slept when she was not nursing. Not officially Kangaroo Care but we made do with what worked. To this day, she still likes to snuggle with me.
Kangaroo Mother Care is when a human mother and her infant snuggle skin to skin with the infant lying prone on mom’s chest. It’s a term coined after the Kangaroo’s close relationship with her little joey who doesn’t come out of mom’s pouch for four months after birth. Instead, joey relies on mom’s warmth, nutrition, and support for his “fourth” trimester. More often than not by those in the birthing realm, the first few months of a human’s life are now called the “fourth” trimester as well. Research has concluded over and over again that Kangaroo Care is invaluable for both human moms and babies as well.
In 2007 a study published in the Oxford Tropical Pediatrics from researchers at the Instituto Materno Infantil in Brazil concluded Kangaroo Mother Care may prove helpful in warding off postpartum depression. Researchers evaluated mothers at the beginning of NICU care and at the end of their Kangaroo Mother Care. NO mother developed depression during their Kangaroo stay. Let me say that again. NO MOTHER developed depression during their Kangaroo stay.
WHO, the World Health Organization, also offers an article regarding Kangaroo Care in the early months of infancy. Their article focuses on the bonding and encouragement of breastfeeding that Kangaroo Care provides. Many of the after-birth procedures and examinations can take place while baby is on Mom’s stomach in the prone position thereby improving chances of maternal and infant bonding.
A new Mother-to-Infant Bonding Scale included in a 2006 study compared the score of the Mother-to-Infant Bonding Scale to Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Women who scored lower on the MIB Scale scored higher on the EPDS and vice versa.
One of the perks of Kangaroo Care is the increased production of Oxytocin initiated through skin-to-skin contact with an infant. Oxytocin is known as the “cuddle” or “love hormone and may help new mothers ward off severe episodes of Postpartum Depression. This is an extremely compelling reason to encourage hospitals to encourage the practices of rooming in and immediate after birth examinations while baby is on Mom’s tummy or chest. The first few hours of life are extremely important to successful bonding and nursing. If mother and child are separated, the risk of failure for bonding and successful breastfeeding may decrease.
There’s also another personal story proving the very value of Kangaroo Mother Care. Carolyn Isbister, a mom out of Edinburgh, saved her infant’s life with a Kangaroo Cuddle. Her little one had been given up on by doctors. Carolyn cuddled with her infant to say goodbye. She and her husband watched as their daughter’s breathing and heart beats regulated. They watched as she went from grey to pink. Carolyn’s little girl is now healthy and home, thanks to Kangaroo Mother Care.
One of the calmest moments I had in the midst of my own downward spiral was as I sat with Charlotte snuggled up on my chest. We were in the middle of the NICU, beeps and boops all around us. The fragility of life hung heavy in the air. Her many wires, tubes, and other non-baby items draped across me as well. But all that mattered was her soft warm head resting peacefully under my chin, her breath caressing my chest. I wrapped my arms as tightly as I dared around her tiny body and closed my eyes. This was a moment in which I wanted to get lost. I wasn’t experiencing many of those at the time. Time stopped as we stepped out of the NICU and into our own little world for a bit. Even as I type this I can still smell her fresh baby scent and feel the weight of her little body curled up on my chest. It is a moment I will always cherish and never forget. My eye in the midst of a hurricane from hell.
I also felt soothed when I held our first daughter skin-to-skin even though I did not know the technical term for our action at the time. Our son was a natural snuggler as well. With him, I did not experience Postpartum Depression. Our skin to skin contact was not much higher than with the other two but it was much higher than my skin to skin contact with Charlotte. After I had Charlotte I was hospitalized for severe PPD & PP OCD, a very scary time in my life.
If you’re a new mom struggling with bonding with your new infant, please try Kangaroo Mother Care. It’s free, it’s easy (mostly naked baby, mostly topless parent) and it does wonders.
Looking back, I wish I had insisted my children stay with me instead of letting them be sent away. Our second daughter’s absence was a medical necessity but with the other two it was not. Keeping your infant with you, on your skin, and allowing your relationship to develop naturally may just be the ticket you need to help ward off a severe case of Postpartum Depression. Some women may do Kangaroo Care and develop Postpartum Depression despite their dedication to skin to skin contact. If this happens, please know you are not alone. Be sure to ask for a thyroid and anemia levels test when talking with your doctor or midwife. And be sure to reach out for help from a mental health professional if you need it. There’s no shame in going to therapy. None.
Even if you are not feeling up to it now, one day, you will mother with confidence, you may even birth with confidence again. But know there are mothers who have been where you are right now and are willing to hold their hands back for you to cling on to – with confidence they will carry you out of the deep dark place you are now trapped within.