Touching and holding your baby in the NICU

Key points

  • Touching and holding is an important part of caring for your baby in the NICU.
  • One way to hold your baby is called kangaroo care. This is when you hold your baby skin-to-skin on your chest.
  • Kangaroo care is good for your baby. It helps keep them warm, is good for their heart and breathing and helps them sleep better.
  • Kangaroo care is good for parents, too. It can help you feel close to your baby and reduce your stress.
  • If your baby’s not well enough for kangaroo care, you can touch them in other ways to comfort them.

What is kangaroo care?

Kangaroo care is when you lay your diapered baby on your bare chest (if you’re the father) or between your bare breasts (if you’re the mother). It’s also called skin-to-skin care because your baby’s bare skin is touching your bare skin. Put a blanket on your baby’s back to help keep them warm.

Kangaroo care is great for both you and your baby, especially if your baby’s in the newborn intensive care unit (also called NICU). Doing kangaroo care for at least 1 hour is best. But you can do it for as long as you and your baby are comfortable. Talk to your baby’s health care providers about how often you can do kangaroo care in the NICU. You also can do kangaroo care after your baby’s home.

How can kangaroo care help your baby?

Kangaroo care may help your baby:

  • Stay warm
  • Keep his heart and breathing regular
  • Gain weight
  • Spend more time in deep sleep
  • Spend more time being quiet and less time crying when he’s awake
  • Have a better chance at breastfeeding

How can kangaroo care help you?

  • Make more breast milk. Breast milk is the best food for most babies in the first year of life.
  • Reduce your stress
  • Help build your confidence to take care of your baby
  • Feel close to your baby

When can you start kangaroo care?

Some babies can start kangaroo care soon after birth and some babies may need to wait. You can do kangaroo care with your baby even if they’re connected to NICU equipment. Ask your baby’s providers when you can start kangaroo care with your baby.

How can you comfort your baby if he’s not ready to be held?

If your baby isn’t well enough for you to hold, you can be close to them in other ways. For example, you can do gentle, still touch called hand hugs (also called a containment hold or hand swaddling). To do a hand hug, with your baby laying on their back, put one hand gently on their head and the other gently on their tummy or around their feet. When you touch your baby, don’t stroke them. This can be overwhelming for babies.

Doing hand hugs can sometimes calm your baby when they’re fussy. It also can make you feel better because you can see your baby breathing and being calmed by your touch.

To learn more about the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, visit the March of Dimes.

Learn more

Last reviewed: July, 2017

About March of Dimes
March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies. We support research, lead programs and provide education and advocacy so that every baby can have the best possible start. Building on a successful 80-year legacy of impact and innovation, we empower every mom and every family.

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