Brittani Hirschy demonstrates skin-to-skin “kangaroo care” for her son, Jaxton. The skin-to-skin contact helps regulate the baby’s body temperature, breathing and heart rate. It also calms the baby and decreases crying.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – Born at only 28 weeks gestation, Jaxton Hirschy weighed 3 pounds, 9 ounces when he was welcomed into the world at Niswonger Children’s Hospital on May 1.

Since his birth, the tiny preemie from Greeneville has spent hours each day on his mother’s chest, wrapped in a blanket. The skin-to-skin contact – commonly called kangaroo care – is credited by Jaxton’s mom as helping him immensely.

“He’s very content when we do kangaroo care with him,” said Brittani Hirschy. “He calms quickly and sleeps so well. Jaxton’s growing really well and gaining weight, and they feel that the amount of kangaroo care we’ve done with him is a major factor. It’s been so amazing to bond with him and know that what we’re doing is helping him so much.”

Kangaroo care is extremely beneficial for all babies, especially those born prematurely, like Jaxton. The practice – which continues to gain attention for its benefits – involves direct skin-to-skin contact. During kangaroo care, the baby – wearing only a diaper – is placed on the parent or caregiver’s bare chest, and then covered with a blanket. Like a baby kangaroo in its mother’s pouch, the infant doing kangaroo care receives many benefits from the close contact.

“It’s amazing what kangaroo care does for babies,” said Dr. Shawn Hollinger, neonatologist at Niswonger Children’s Hospital. “Studies have shown that it’s incredibly important for NICU babies. They’re more stable when they’re on mom or dad’s chest.”

The skin-to-skin contact helps regulate the baby’s body temperature, breathing and heart rate. It also calms the baby and decreases crying. Kangaroo care helps the mother too by encouraging bonding with her child and increasing her milk supply.

“As a physician, I know the benefits of kangaroo care, and as a father, I experienced them firsthand,” said Dr. Hollinger. “My son was born prematurely at 31 weeks, and for the first week of his life, he really struggled with breathing. His most stable time was when he was either on me or my wife doing kangaroo care. It decreased his oxygen needs. It was very impressive.”

His son Will is now a healthy one-year-old.

To raise awareness for kangaroo care and its benefits, the team at Niswonger Children’s Hospital challenged themselves to log over 200 hours of kangaroo time during May in honor of International Kangaroo Care Awareness Day, which took place on May 15. As a fun way to get everyone motivated, Dr. Hollinger agreed to dress up as a kangaroo and get a matching kangaroo suit for his little joey, Will, to show his patients and their families.

The team logged over 250 hours.

“I had moms telling me they were going to do extra kangaroo care with their baby so they could see me dressed up as a kangaroo,” said Hollinger with a laugh. “I’m happy to do it to encourage such a wonderful practice that has such great benefits.”