What The Heck Is

What The Heck Is… Kangaroo Care?

By Kitty Knowles 16 May 2017

Explaining the buzzwords of the moment: What is Kangaroo Care, and how is it saving lives?

Our weekly series What The Heck Is… exists to shed light on the strange unexplained acronyms and unfamiliar buzzwords that creep into our everyday lives.

From phubbing to nitro coffee, we’re on a mission to explain the difficult to explain.

Now, in honour of Future Family month, we look at a term that could shape your future family tree.

Climb on into the history of Kangaroo Care…

What is Kangaroo Care?

Kangaroo Care (more accurately known as Kangaroo Mother Care, or KMC) is the revolutionary skin-to-skin approach that’s saving the lives of premature babies.

Instead of being whisked away from mum into an incubator, it involves encouraging mums to keep their vulnerable young infants on their bodies.

Like a kangaroo in a pouch.

The newborn is held, underneath mum’s clothing, between her breasts, in continuous contact with her skin.

Mum must even learn to sleep on her back, safely keeping baby on top of her.

Where did Kangaroo Care come from?

KMC was developed by Colombian paediatrician Edgar Rey, who was inspired by the physiology of kangaroos and joeys.

The medic brought the method to the Instituto Materno Infantil in 1978 – a poor and overcrowded unit, where death rates were high.

Death rates dropped drastically, and even overcrowding was reduced because hospital stays were shorter.

In short: KMC was a success. 

How has it shaped the world?

In the years that followed leading paediatricians, like Nathalie Charpak, have helped to prove KMC safe, and in the 1990s visiting medics spread the practice to developing countries like Venezuela, Brazil, Ethiopia, Madagascar, India, and Cameroon.

Malawi, which has the highest rate of premature births in the world (181 babies out of 1,000), now has a KMC centre in every district and the World Health Organisation estimates that KMC has the potential to save 450,000 lives a year.

Why should you care?

Today experts are fighting to convince the world that KMC is not just for people in poorer countries. “It’s a proper neonatal care with advantages that are clinically proven,” says Charpak in one recent interview.

Yes, it’s cheaper – caring for premature babies in the US costs up to $5,000 (£4,000) a day, compared to the $4.60 a day KMC programme.

But a breakthrough study, published last year, has shown the method to make premature babies healthier and wealthier in adult life: they’re less hyperactive, less antisocial, and they even earned higher wages, Charpak observes.

Food for thought, if you or your partner are pregnant today.