Kangaroo Dads

Fathers can establish a closer bond with their infant child through skin-to-skin contact or Kangaroo care, reports researchers from Australia and the United Kingdom.

Asian Scientist Magazine (Jul. 29, 2022) — Benefits of skin-to-skin contact between a mother and her newborn have been known for long. Now emerging research shows that similar contact between fathers and their infants, could also help fathers bond with their babies. This finding is especially crucial given the changing family structures and increasing visibility of single parents and same-sex unions.

Published in Journal of Clinical Nursing, lead author Sophia Dong from the University of South Australia conducted an exploratory study on the benefits fathers perceive while practicing Kangaroo care. Kangaroo care is another term for skin-to-skin contact between parent and child, mimicking the way young joeys find security and comfort in their mothers’ pouch.

Speaking to Asian Scientist Magazine, Dong, a registered nurse and master’s student, explained that there is plenty of data suggesting the benefits of Kangaroo care for both mother and child. However, with family structures and parent dynamics changing over the years there is almost no data surrounding the perceived effects of fathers providing Kangaroo care to foster a father-child bond.

“Usually over here [in Australia] it is the mother that provides the most care towards the child and so they bond more closely. While the father would just play the role of the breadwinner,” Dong explained. “The fathers are not directly involved with the child; they just stand by but don’t actively participate.”

But that scenario is rapidly changing as paid paternal leave policies in Australia along with the increasing recognition of single-parent and same-sex households is challenging the concept of fatherhood and a father’s role in infant and child development.

Dong, who had emigrated from China to Australia in 2005, noted that the culture surrounding men participating in childcare was different back in her birth country. “I had worked in neonatal units in China where there were programs for fathers to provide Kangaroo care to their children while the mother was having her ‘Golden Month’.” Practiced in many parts of Asia, Golden Month refers to a time period where the mother rests and recovers for about 40 days or so after giving birth, while her child is cared for by midwives, fathers or other relatives.

The crucial bonding that Dong observed between a father and their child during the Golden Month in China influenced Dong to pursue research on the benefits that fathers experience while providing Kangaroo care to their infants in the neonatal intensive care units in the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, North Adelaide, South Australia.

As part of the study, Dong contacted ten fathers with their pre-term infants, and asked them to hold their babies against their bare chest while cradling them for at least one hour each day. A subsequent follow-up interview was conducted towards the end of the infants’ stay at the hospital. Dong recorded the fathers’ experience and thoughts with providing Kangaroo care.

Overall, the fathers expressed overwhelmingly positive experiences throughout. Initial feelings of anxiety and nervousness stemming from their child being admitted into a neonatal intensive care unit were noted to calm down once the fathers practiced Kangaroo care.

According to Dong, one father expressed joy at being able to connect so closely with his infant daughter, something that he might not have considered doing had he not participated in the study. Similar experiences are also reflected in the paper, where some fathers mentioned feeling “calm” when holding their child. And for one father, holding his child felt like a “silent language of love”.

“[The exploratory study] is really highlighting the benefits of providing Kangaroo care to the fathers. I think this can help them rethink their paternal role,” remarks Dong.

From this initial study, Dong hopes to continue expanding the research scope and participant demographic to collect more data on the effects of Kangaroo care on father-child relationship as well as childhood health and development.

Source: University of South Australia; Photo: Pexels

This article can be found at Dong et al. (2022), Exploratory study of fathers providing Kangaroo Care in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Hannan is a science writer with an interest in telling stories about science and the people behind it. She graduated with a degree in biochemistry from the University of Nottingham.

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