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Kangaroo Mother Care and “Nurturescience”: 6 Facts You Might Not Know

Newborn lays on mother's chest for skin-to-skin contact and kangaroo mother care.

I’ve been a devoted admirer of Dr. Nils Bergman’s work for years. To celebrate Kangaroo Care Day, I interviewed him. As you know, there are literally hundreds of studies and other resources that show the efficacy of kangaroo mother care (KMC), but Dr. Bergman expanded on KMC and discussed “zero separation,” or what he calls the “nurturescience” of the newborn.

I’ve listened to this interview several times, because there were a few points I hadn’t fully grasped in years past.

Mothers need to “recalibrate” their brain

Dr. Bergman pointed out that mothers come to the birth experience with previous psychological “baggage.”

To recalibrate her brain, the mother should have uninterrupted contact with the newborn for at least 1000 minutes. That’s more than 16 hours; 20 hours if you round up. (You’ve heard of nutrition for the first 1000 days, right? Well, here we’re talking 1000 minutes.)

When all of the senses are in motion, an “orchestra” is created within the mother’s limbic system. Then, when all of the “instruments” (the five senses and the hormones) are in tune, the mother’s brain is recalibrated for optimal mothering behaviors.

Skin-to-skin contact is paramount

After birthing became hospital-based, skin-to-skin care was assumed to be optional, irrelevant, or unimportant. Nothing could be further from the truth. Contact between the newborn, the mother and — yes, the father— is a critical component of the transition to extrauterine life for the baby, and the transformation of individuals into family units.

Together with his wife, Jill Bergman, Dr. Bergman asserts that we need to pay attention to what’s best for the baby in an ecobiodevelopmental model. He reminds us that the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child emphasizes that the best interests of the child are paramount.

In short, the healthcare professional who feels compelled to carry out tasks and do documentation should remember that such responsibilities, while important, do not supersede the need for continuous skin-to-skin contact of the mother and baby.

Skin-to-skin contact: not just the first hour

Nowadays, parents and professionals seem to understand that skin-to-skin contact is desirable or even ideal during the first hour after birth. Yet, in many hospitals, this first “hour” is often truncated after several minutes.

Further, when the baby has difficulty attaching any time thereafter, many staff nurses do not suggest skin-to-skin contact as the first strategy to overcome those difficulties. (I’m saying “some” and I’m hoping that the staff at your hospital are more enlightened!)

Yes, the first hour of skin-to-skin contact is necessary, but it’s not sufficient. We need to embrace the “zero-separation” of the nurturescience long after that first hour.

Having continuous contact is the opposite of toxic stress

The term “skin-to-skin contact” is often used synonymously with kangaroo mother care. And, some early studies made no distinction between skin-to-skin contact and suckling. Now, there is yet another dimension to consider.

It seemed to me that Dr. Bergman was suggesting continuous skin-to skin contact as a preventive measure for Early Childhood Adversity and Toxic Stress as described by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

You might be thinking that the statement from the AAP is “old.” Okay, point taken. But have you read it? And if you and everyone else on your staff has read it, has it changed your hospital birth practices?

Hospital birth practices and nurturescience  

We need to stop thinking that there is some “reason” to whisk the baby away after an hour, or even after several hours. But we also need to re-think how birth practices can enhance or detract from the newborn’s experience.

If we focus on trying to implement zero separation, we will look more critically at practices that can interfere with the newborn’s early experience (e.g., an oxytocin induction, which Dr. Bergman discussed) and practices that enhance the newborn’s experience e.g., the “kangaroula”.

Continuous contact for 20 hours has a lifelong effect 

It’s not just about “now.” Dr. Bergman insists that implementing what we know about the nurturescience has a lifelong impact. Conversely, the lack of contact has a lifelong effect.

We need neuroscience, as well as nurturescience. And, we need more than science. We need action to create the optimal environment for our newborns.

Does your hospital stress the importance of skin-to-skin contact and kangaroo mother care beyond the first hour? Share this post with other healthcare professionals to help spread awareness of the positive impacts of nuturescience.

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  1. Kamrun Nahar

    Hi there
    yes, you are right.

    With skin to skin contact, the mother and the baby exchange sensory information that stimulates and elicits “baby” behavior: rooting and searching the breast, staying calm, breathing more naturally, staying warm, maintaining his body temperature and maintaining his sugar level in blood.

    Not only these benefits, skin to skin contact system is useful for the mother to maintain her milk volume will improve and the milk expressed will contain the most up-to-date antibodies.

    your article is very important and useful for the sound health of all babies. Thank you so much.

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      I’m so glad it resonated with you. Honestly, this is one of the most effective FREE strategies we can implement…anywhere on the globe! Thank you for your positive feedback.

  2. Joanna Strybosch

    Dear Marie
    What a wonderful article! Thank you. I love that idea of the first 1000 minutes. It makes we wish to be able to go back in time and do it again better with my own babies….
    I have just written an article on skin to skin care for a local online paper, and I wonder if I could have permission to use your photo as an illustration? Thank you

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Joanna, I’m so glad it was helpful to you! Thank you, thank you for letting me know. (Feedback from readers helps me to know that I’m not just talking to myself!)


    Hi Marie, yes we do skin to skin immediately every delivery as long as the neonates is stable, even if there in mild respiratory distress we leave a saturation probe on and give blow by if needed while the infant remains skin to skin with mother as the research has proven: this many times helps with transition to extra uterine life. My question back to you is how to get the infant weighed and measured for the admission process etc demands input of these vitals for pharmacy and levels of care based on whether the infant is SGA, AGA, or LGA? I want to leave that infant skin to skin but I have to have those 2 measurements in order to process the birth admission which opens all the charting, consents for mediations etc.

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