Baby It’s Cold Outside! How Kangaroo Care/Skin to Skin works to thermoregulate Infants

Baby It’s Cold Outside! How Kangaroo Care/Skin to Skin works to thermoregulate Infants

By Diane Schultz

I thought I would start off my series of posts with one of the most basic reasons we do Kangaroo Care.
Thermoregulation is the process of maintaining an infant’s temperature within normal range. Thermoregulation is extremely important for the newborn (term or preterm). An infant’s body surface area is 3X greater than an adult’s, causing them to potentially lose heat rapidly, up to 4X faster. When cold stressed, infants use energy and oxygen to generate warmth.  Oxygen consumption can increase by as much as 10%. Thermoregulation of the infants allows them to conserve energy and build up *reserves”.

What Happens When An infant Is Placed Skin to Skin?

When the term infant is placed skin to skin at birth, the mother’s breasts immediately start to warm and conduct heat to the infant, helping to maintain normal blood sugar levels due to the infant not having to use their own brown fat to stay warm (Bergstrom et al.,2007;Bystrova et al.,2007;Ludington-Hoe et al.,2000,2006) (Chantry,2005;Christensson et al.,1992).

Kangaroo Care maintains a Neutral Thermal Environment (defined as the ideal setting in which an infant can maintain a normal body temperature while producing only the minimum amount of heat generated from basal life-sustaining metabolic processes).
In our unit, any infant that needs an incubator to maintain their temperature can only come out to be held by Kangaroo Care instead of being bundle held. To help maintain thermoregulation we make sure the infant and parent are in a draft free area, and use 2-4 layers of blankets over the infant (you can always remove a layer if needed). Infants weighing less than 1000gms should wear some type of head cap and monitor them using the incubator’s temperature probe. Remember too, we don’t want any bras or clothing between the infant and the mother, fabric will interfere with the conductance of heat from mother to infant (Ludington-Hoe et al.,2000).
One of the interesting things about KC and thermoregulation is if a mother holds twins in KC each breast works independently to warm each infant (Ludington-Hoe, et al.,2006). Triplets? Not sure, but our mothers hold their “trips” together all the time and we have had no issues.
Now, how about the father? Does he thermoregulate like the mother? With mothers you have what is called Thermal Synchrony (maternal breast temperatures changing in response to the infant’s temperature) (Ludington-Hoe, et al.,1990;1994,2000) where the fathers chests will warm up when the infant is placed in KC but will not cool down (Maastrup & Greisen, 2010). We don’t have any issues with our fathers overheating, just lots of hair to be picked off the infant after!

Kangaroo Care/Skin to Skin; Can it change your life too?

Kangaroo Care/Skin to Skin; Can it change your life too?

Hi, my name is Diane Schultz and Michael has asked me to write a series of posts on his blog about Kangaroo Care (KC). Seeing as I am one of the Champions (they call you that, but sometimes the word begins with a B) for KC in my unit, I was thrilled. I thought I would begin with an introduction as to why I want to write about this.

I have been a Neonatal Nurse for 29 years working in the NICU at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg. I felt that I had always given good care to the families but did not really make connections with them.

I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Susie Ludington about 10 years ago at an Academy of Neonatal Nursing conference. She was a general session presenter and was speaking about Kangaroo Care. The first thing she said was “My goal is Kangaroo Care 24/7”. All I could think of was WTF!?  I would have to listen to this Nutbar for an hour? Our unit had been doing KC for years but only occasionally and usually the parent would ask for it, we certainly did not promote it or do it with our more fragile infants.

After listening to Dr. Ludington present, my world changed. What she said hit a cord; she presented benefit after benefit with rationale and evidence that made complete sense to me. I felt guilty I had not been doing this at work and guilty that I had not held my own daughters this way. I am now lucky to be able to call Dr. Ludington a friend, and know she has changed my life.

Now, there is a lot of evidence out there touting the benefits of KC, but the real way to understand and believe in it is to do it.  KC creates its own evidence. Every time I bring out a medically fragile infant to be held in KC, I know that this is the right place for that infant to be: with their parent being held.  You can see the relaxation on all of their faces (decreasing cortisol), the infant is able to go into a deep sleep (promotes brain maturation), and the family is able to connect in the best way possible. I feel KC is as important as anything else we do at the bedside and is an extremely necessary therapy.

Promoting KC in my unit has benefited me at so many levels; I believe it has actually saved my career and given me a focus that I didn’t have before. You can’t help but make connections with your families, and these families are able to make connections with their little ones. KC is also a very important part of Family Integrated Care, as this is something that the family can contribute to their child’s care.

I also couldn’t be more proud of my unit; the staff I have the pleasure to work with are some of the best health care professionals around. They make every effort to bring our fragile infants out for KC and it has become part of our culture in our NICU.  KC happens in our unit with almost all of our infants, the only exceptions being actively cooling babies and infants with chest tubes. We have also created a Standard Work Protocol so all medically fragile infants come out the safest way possible without creating extra stress on the infant or family.

In my series of posts I will present the many benefits of KC for infants and their families and share some of my experiences. I hope you will be able to take something away from this, begin to try KC in your own unit, and create your own evidence.

Is skin to skin care truly good for the developing brain?

Is skin to skin care truly good for the developing brain?

Skin to skin care or kangaroo care is all the rage and I am the first one to offer my support for it.  Questions persist though as to whether from a physiological standpoint, babies are more stable in an isolette in a quiet environment or out in the open on their mother or father’s chests. Bornhorst et al expressed caution in their study Skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care, respiratory control, and thermoregulation.  In a surprising finding, babies with an average gestational age of 29 weeks were monitored for a number of physiological parameters and found to have more frequent apnea and higher heart rates than when in an isolette.  The study was small though and while there were statistical differences in these parameters they may not have had much clinical significance (1.5 to 2.8 per hour for apnea, bradycardia or desaturation events).  Furthermore, does an increase in such events translate into any changes in cerebral oxygenation that might in turn have implications for later development?  Tough to say based on a study of this magnitude but it certainly does raise some eyebrows.

What if we could look at cerebral oxygenation?

As you might have guessed, that is exactly what has been done by Lorenz L et al in their recent paper Cerebral oxygenation during skin-to-skin care in preterm infants not receiving respiratory support.The goal of this study was to look at 40 preterm infants without any respiratory distress and determine whether cerebral oxygenation (rStO2)was better in their isolette or in skin to skin care (SSC).  They allowed each infant to serve as their own control by have three 90 minute periods each including the first thirty minutes as a washout period.  Each infant started their monitoring in the isolette then went to SSC then back to the isolette.  The primary outcome the power calculation was based on was the difference in rStO2 between SSC and in the isolette.  Secondary measures looked at such outcomes as HR, O2 sat, active and quiet sleep percentages, bradycardic events as lastly periods of cerebral hypoxia or hyperoxia.  Normal cerebral oxygenation was defined as being between 55 to 85%.

Surprising results?

Perhaps its the start of a trend but again the results were a bit surprising showing a better rStO2 when in the isolette (−1.3 (−2.2 to −0.4)%, p<0.01).  Other results are summarized in the table below:

Mean difference in outcomes
Variable SSC Isolette Difference in mean p
rStO2 73.6 74.8 -1.3 <0.01
SpO2 (median) 97 97 -1.1 0.02
HR 161 156 5 <0.01
% time in quiet sleep 58.6 34.6 24 <0.01

No differences were seen in bradycardic events, apnea, cerebral hypoexmia or hyperoxemia.  The authors found that SSC periods in fact failed the “non-inferiority” testing indicating that from a rStO2 standpoint, babies were more stable when not doing SSC!  Taking a closer look though one could argue that even if this is true does it really matter?  What is the impact on a growing preterm infant if their cerebral oxygenation is 1.3 percentage points on average lower during SSC or if their HR is 5 beats per minute faster?  I can’t help but think that this is an example of statistical significance without clinical significance.  Nonetheless, if there isn’t a superiority of these parameters it does leave one asking “should we keep at it?”

Benefits of skin to skin care

Important outcomes such as reductions in mortality and improved breastfeeding rates cannot be ignored or the positive effects on family bonding that ensue. Some will argue though that the impacts on mortality certainly may be relevant in developing countries where resources are scarce but would we see the same benefits in developed nations.  The authors did find a difference though in this study that I think benefits developing preterm infants across the board no matter which country you are in.  That benefit is that of Quiet Sleep (QS).  As preterm infants develop they tend to spend more time in QS compared to active sleep  (AS).  From Doussard- Roossevelt J, “Quiet sleep consists of periods of quiescence with regular respiration and heart rate, and synchronous EEG patterns. Active sleep consists of periods of movement with irregular respiration and heart rate, and desynchronous EEG patterns.”  In the above table one sees that the percentage of time in QS was significantly increased compared to AS when in SSC.  This is important as neurodevelopment is thought to advance during periods of QS as preterm infants age.

There may be little difference favouring less oxygen extraction during isolette times but maybe that isn’t such a good thing?  Could it be that the small statistical difference in oxygen extraction is because the brain is more active in laying down tracks and making connections?  Totally speculative on my part but all that extra quiet sleep has got to be good for something.

To answer the question of this post in the title I think the answer is a resounding yes for the more stable infant.  What we don’t know at the moment except from anecdotal reports of babies doing better in SSC when really sick is whether on average critically ill babies will be better off in SSC.  I suspect the answer is that some will and some won’t.  While we like to keep things simple and have a one size fits all answer for most of our questions in the NICU, this one may not be so simple.  For now I think we keep promoting SSC for even our sick patients but need to be honest with ourselves and when a patient just isn’t ready for the handling admit it and try again when more stable.  For the more stable patient though I think giving more time for neurons to find other neurons and make new connections is a good thing to pursue!

Isn’t it time for a little Kangaroo in your NICU?

Isn’t it time for a little Kangaroo in your NICU?

Aside from me donning the costume in the above picture for the Kangaroo Challenge 2017 I learned something new today.  Before I get into what I learned, let me say that I had the opportunity to put so many smiles on parents faces by walking around in this full body costume that I am grateful to Diane for finding this costume and Sue (you both know who you are) for purchasing it.  Handing out cookies to the parents and children at the bedside and seeing them smile while knowing that they were under significant stress gave me the opportunity to interact with parents in a very different way than I am accustomed to as a Neonatologist so I am so thankful to have had that experience and yes if called upon I will do it again!

We even made the local news! CTV newscast

I posted the above picture on my Facebook page and to my surprise many of the comments led me to believe that Kangaroo Care is still something that needs a little nudging to get the word out about.  I found this actually quite surprising given how immersed we are in Winnipeg with this strategy.  When I think about new interventions in Neonatology it is synonymous in virtually all cases with an influx of dollars to achieve usher in the new program.  Here is a program that is virtually free but only requires a commitment from families to spend the time at the bedside with their baby in the NICU.

I have been asked by many of my nursing colleagues to write something about Kangaroo care on this site and so here it is…

What is it?

You have likely heard of Kangaroo Care and you may have even seen some children receiving it in your hospital.  Why is this so important?

Kangaroo Care (KC) or Skin to Skin Care (STS) is an ideal method of involving parents in the care of their premature infant.  It fosters bonding between parents and their hospitalized infant, encourages the family to be with their child and thereby exposes them to other elements of neonatal care that they can take part in.  While we know that many units are practising Kangaroo Care there is a big difference between having KC in your unit and doing everything you can to maximize the opportunity that your families have to participate.

There is much more to KC than simply holding a baby against your chest.  For a demonstration of KC please watch the accompanying video and show it to any one in your units that may need a visual demonstration.  This excellent video is from Nationwide Children’s Hospital and walks you through all of the important steps to get it right and maximize benefit.

Kangaroo Care Video

Before you reach the conclusion that KC only serves to enhance the parental experience it does so much more than that.  The practice began in Bogota Columbia in 1979 in order to deal with a shortage of incubators and associated rampant hospital infections.  The results of their intervention were dramatic and lead to the spread of this strategy worldwide.  The person credited with helping to spread the word and establish KC as a standard of care in many NICUs is Nils Bergman and his story and commentary can be found here

The effects of KC are dramatic and effective to reduce many important morbidities and conclusively has led to a reduction in death arguably the most important outcome.  An analysis of effect has been the subject of several Cochrane Collaboration reviews with the most recent one being found here.

To summarize though, the use of KC or STS care has resulted in the following overall benefits to premature infants at discharge or 40 – 41 weeks’ postmenstrual age:

Reduction in

mortality  (typical RR 0.68, 95% CI 0.48 to 0.96)

nosocomial infection/sepsis  (typical RR 0.57, 95% CI 0.40 to 0.80)

hypothermia (typical RR 0.23, 95% CI 0.10 to 0.55)

Increase in

KMC was found to increase some measures of infant growth, breastfeeding, and mother-infant attachment

To put this in perspective, medicine is littered with great medications that never achieved such impact as simply putting your child against your chest.  This is another shining example of doing more with less.  This is not to say that modern medicine and technology does not have its place in the NICU but KC is simply too powerful a strategy not to use and promote routinely in the NICU.

Please join me in championing this wonderful technique and make a difference to all of our babies!

A sample of our parent letter to promote KC is found in the link below.

Parent letter II

Kangaroo Care Counterpoint: What About the Term Infant?

Kangaroo Care Counterpoint: What About the Term Infant?

After releasing yesterdays post Skin to Skin Fad Blamed For Death of Babies I entered into a very interesting discussion on Twitter with Clay Jones of Science Based  Emily Hahn (@TexasKidDoc) was also instrumental for setting up the discussion so I thank her for connecting Clay and I once again.  At issue was whether the “Fad” of Skin to Skin Care was indeed to blame for the observations in Australia.

Clay in fact his written on this topic as well but from KC in the term infant perspective and I would encourage you to read his piece as a “counterpoint” below.

Kangaroo Mother Care, Skin-To-Skin Contact, and the Risk of Sudden Unexpected Postnatal Collapse

My gut reaction given that I am immersed in a culture of Kangaroo Care was to defend the usage but he raises a very important point that I think is worth addressing.

No one is disputing the benefits of Kangaroo Care for preterm infants which I won’t go into here as I have done so yesterday.  The question being posed is whether such benefits extend to the term infant and whether it can be done safely.  The preterm infant experiencing KC in a prone position is of course monitored with a nurse close by.  The patient in the room alone with a mother who has recently delivered is not necessarily supervised to the same degree.  Also if the baby is unmonitored then is it safe?

Still A Big Supporter of Kangaroo Care

I am not changing my tune so to speak as there are many benefits in terms of breastfeeding, maternal-infant bonding, thermoregulation etc that will be achieved through KC.  What I do mean to at least raise some awareness of though is the concern that without a proper preventative strategy in the term infant population falls and or asphyxiation from a mother who falls asleep with the infant in between her breasts is possible.  Readers of this blog on Facebook yesterday acknowledged they have seen such events happen and I can say myself that I have as well.

Let’s practice KC and endorse it but in the end let’s all be safe.  In the end the question then is was the title of the Yahoo post truly that inflammatory?!  What it inferred I think was but as it pertained to the hospital experience perhaps there was something there.

What do you think?

Addendum: From Keith Barrington

There are now several publications about this happening, (including our case report, Schrewe B, et al. Life-threatening event during skin-to-skin contact in the delivery room. BMJ Case Rep. 2010;2010(dec21 1):bcr1120103475-bcr.) At the time we wrote our report we found 59 cases in the literature, and 56 of them had been in skin to skin with the mother.
A French group published a number of risk factors for sudden unexpected life-threatening events after an uneventful delivery at term, which included skin to skin position and maternal obesity.
It is clear that this is very rare ( German group calculated the incidence as 2.6 per 100,000 deliveries), but it is potentially devastating, mortality is high, and neurologic compromise also.
Our take on this was that given the benefit in terms of breast feeding initiation etc, and the rarity of problems, that we should not discourage the practice, but never leave a new mother alone with the baby in skin to skin, someone else should be in the room to keep an unobtrusive eye on the baby, it could be the father (if he had some idea what to watch for) or a health care worker. As the mechanism is probably simple suffocation, a pulse oximeter could be a potential way of surveying for teh occurrence, if something more natural was not available.