Interview with Isbister and quotes by Lucy Laing
Not all prematurely born babies need to be hooked to machines to survive - in fact, they may just do better skin-to-skin on Momma's chest. It is a technique as old as humanity ~ to hold your baby close and regulate all the newborn systems ~ something we now refer to as Kangaroo Mother Care.
When Carolyn Isbister held her 20-ounce newborn daughter close to her chest for the first time she believed it was the only time she would ever snuggle with her beautiful, beloved baby. She breathed in each moment holding her daughter close, as doctors told her to let go because her daughter only had minutes to live.
I didn’t want her to die being cold. So I lifted her out of her blanket and put her against my skin to warm her up. Her feet were so cold. It was the only cuddle I was going to have with her, so I wanted to remember the moment. Then something remarkable happened. The warmth of her mother’s skin kick started Rachael’s heart into beating properly, which allowed her to take little breaths of her own.Despite all the doctors' disbelief - when all the 'experts' said there was no hope - Rachael's mother held her close, and gave her life. Her mother, however, remembers clearly that everyone gave up on her tiny newborn,
We couldn’t believe it - and neither could the doctors. She let out a tiny cry. The doctors came in and said there was still no hope – but I wasn’t letting go of her. We had her blessed by the hospital chaplain, and waited for her to slip away. But she still hung on. And then amazingly the pink color began to return to her cheeks. She literally was turning from gray to pink before our eyes, and she began to warm up too.
They didn’t even try to help her with her breathing as they said it would just prolong her dying.At 24 weeks, a uterine infection had led to her premature labor and birth, and Isbister (who also has two children Samuel, 10, and Kirsten, 8) said, "We were terrified we were going to lose her. I had suffered three miscarriages before, so we didn't think there was much hope." When Rachael was born she was grey and lifeless. Ian Laing, a consultant neonatologist at the hospital, said that, "All the signs were that the little one was not going to make it and we took the decision to let mum have a cuddle as it was all we could do. Two hours later the wee thing was crying. This is indeed a miracle baby and I have seen nothing like it in my 27 years of practice. I have not the slightest doubt that this mother’s love saved her daughter." Rachael was moved onto a ventilator where she continued to make steady progress and was tube and syringe fed her mother's pumped breastmilk.
The doctors said that she had proved she was a fighter and that she now deserved some intensive care as there was some hope. She had done it all on her own – without any medical intervention or drugs. She had clung on to life – and it was all because of that cuddle. It had warmed up her body and regulated her heart and breathing enough for her to start fighting.At five weeks, Rachel was taken off the ventilator and began breastfeeding on her own. At four months Rachel went home with her parents - weighing 8lbs - the same as any other healthy newborn. Having suffered from a lack of oxygen so early in life, doctors feared damage had been done to Rachel's brain. A scan, however, showed no evidence of any problems, and today Rachel is on par with her peers.
She is doing so well. When we brought her home, the doctors told us that she was a remarkable little girl. And most of all, she just loves her cuddles. She will sleep for hours, just curled into my chest. It was that first cuddle which saved her life - and I'm just so glad I trusted my instinct and picked her up when I did. Otherwise she wouldn't be here today.
Holding a baby on one's chest, skin-to-skin, is referred to as Kangaroo Mother Care. However, it is a practice that all mammals participate in (just watch a cat with her new kittens or dog with her newborn puppies). Kangaroo Mother Care benefits ALL babies in several ways.
*KMC babies stabilize faster with skin-to-skin care than in an incubator (very few newborns stabilize well within an incubator during the first fragile hours of life).
*KMC babies have stable oxygen rates and breathing thanks to the steady regulation of mother's respiration.
*A KMC baby's heart rate is stable (mother's heartbeat regulates baby's heartbeat).
*A baby's temperature is most stable on his mother - in skin-to-skin care mother's chest automatically warms to warm a cold baby, while her core temperature drops if baby is too warm and needs to be cooled.
*Sleeping within an arm's reach of baby (as long as a parent does not smoke) also regulates all of his physiological needs in the same way ~ they are kept steady thanks to Mom's warm, even-paced body. We lose far fewer babies to prematurity, irregularity of breathing or heartbeat after birth, and SIDS all with the natural help of skin-to-skin holding, or Kangaroo Care.
Read more about the skin-to-skin benefits for all babies (full term and premature) at KangarooMotherCare.com.
Good books related to Kangaroo Mother Care:
The Premature Baby Book
The Vital Touch
Read more about the benefits of sleeping within an arm's reach of baby ('sharing sleep') at Dr. Sears' site, in these excellent baby sleep books, at Dr. McKenna's baby sleep site and library, or any of the links at the Baby Sleep Resource Page.