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Skin-to-skin 'kangaroo care' helps premies thrive

| Monday, June 12, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Alexis Secilia, 28, of Carmichaels, practices Kangaroo Care on her 17 day old son, Dejaun Secilia as her other son, Trei'vaun Davis, 6, looks on in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, Friday, June 2, 2017. Kangaroo Care involves as much skin-to-skin contact between mothers and newborns as possible.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Alexis Secilia, 28, of Carmichaels, practices Kangaroo Care on her 17 day old son, Dejaun Secilia as her other son, Trei'vaun Davis, 6, looks on in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, Friday, June 2, 2017. Kangaroo Care involves as much skin-to-skin contact between mothers and newborns as possible.

Everybody needs a hug.

“Whenever I put him in my shirt, he opens up his eyes and he smiles a lot. He seems to like it,” said Alexis Secilia, 28 of Carmichaels, cocooned in a blanket with her 17-day-old son resting on her bare chest.

Secilia gave birth on May 15 to her fourth child, Dejaun Secilia.

The Mother's Day arrival marked her second preterm baby. Dejaun was born at Uniontown Hospital seven weeks before his due date. Weighing 4-pounds-2-ounces and measuring 17 12 inches long, he was quickly transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

Secilia's time at Children's coincided with the NICU's kangaroo-a-thon, an event that encourages mothers to practice kangaroo care, or skin-to-skin care, on their premature babies.

“At first, they told us we were going to be here for another two or three weeks,” Secilia said. “I think the kangaroo care is helping us go home so early.”

Secilia and Dejaun were discharged and went home on June 4.

The idea of kangaroo care originated in Colombia in the 1970s due to a high rate of death in preterm babies. Researchers later found that the babies who were strapped to their mother's bare chest for up to 24 hours a day not only survived, but thrived.

“Twenty years later, (researchers) found that these children were more relaxed, they had a better outlook on life, they were less anxious, less restless, and they were sent home sooner,” said Dr. Beverly Brozanski, medical director of the NICU at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Medical professionals are seeking a change in the culture of newborn and preterm baby care with kangaroo care at the forefront.

“The culture change that we want to create is to have every family hold their baby every day, whether it's skin-to-skin or not,” Brozanski said.

Kangaroo care has been found to offer a variety of benefits for both mothers and babies and has become a key component of the family -centered care provided at Children's.

“You see these families sitting by the bedside, and just looking at the isolette and they're nervous and they're anxious,” Brozanski said, referring to a specialized crib for premature babies. “But when they're actually holding their baby, there's a sense of calm and a sense of peace. And that calm, peace, and tranquility is transferred to the baby.”

The staff at Children's said they hope skin-to-skin care will become the norm. Other hospitals in the Pittsburgh area promote the practice. Allegheny Health Network NICU Medical Director Dr. Barbara Clouser said their nurses encourage parents to practice kangaroo care on newborns.

“What we're trying to do with this is change culture, and when you're trying to change culture intermittently you have to kind of throw these little events in to remind people,” Brozanski said about the recent kangaroo-a-thon. “But hopefully, once we change the culture, we won't necessarily have to continue with the events.”

Kangaroo-a-thon's will be hosted at Magee-Womens Hospital in Oakland, UPMC Hamot in Erie, and UPMC Mercy, Uptown.

Emma Curtis is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7822, ecurtis@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @EmmaCurtisPGH.

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