Skin-to-skin is a win-win for preemies and parents

Patient Stories |



Kangaroo-a-thon tracks progress as NICU babies nestle on their mom or dad’s chest.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

No bigger than a doll, Piper Jo Glasgow is snuggled into her father’s bare chest, comforted by the beat of his heart and the softness of his voice.

This is quality time, skin-to-skin time, and Army Staff Sgt. Austin Glasgow is known to get a bit emotional as he bonds with his baby in the NICU at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. He’s a softie when it comes to his little girl – all 2 pounds, 9 ounces of her.

Austin Glasgow with his daughter

Piper Jo surprised her parents – Kirby and Austin – and her doctors at IU Health Methodist Hospital when she basically delivered herself at 32 weeks. Kirby Glasgow was rushed to Methodist by ambulance from a Columbus hospital when she went into pre-term labor.

The plan was to deliver Piper Jo by C-section at 36 weeks, but at 32 weeks she was ready to see the world, refusing to even wait for an operating room to open up, Kirby said. She was born two weeks ago.

“She had enough of my body apparently,” the young mom said with a laugh.

Giving premature infants skin-to-skin time (also known as kangaroo care) is crucial to their well-being, said Riley NICU nurse and shift coordinator Stacia Nickell, explaining that it helps them develop and bond with their parent or caregiver.

That’s where the aptly named Kangaroo-a-thon comes into play. Started several years ago by Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Canada, the two-week challenge (May 1-15) boasts the benefits of skin-to-skin time for infants and their parents. The goal is to raise awareness both within neonatal units and the community at large of the importance of skin-to-skin as a form of therapy.

Riley has participated in the challenge in the past. In fact, Riley Hospital at IU North won in the Level 3/4 NICU competition in 2018, with an average of 4.63 hours held per baby per day.

This year’s contest at Riley downtown is being coordinated by NICU nurses Yolandi Crose and Kathryn Lujajohnson. Parents receive packets explaining the program, along with data collection sheets to track their hours and kangaroo stickers. Prizes are awarded when goals are reached.

“When these babies are born premature, they’re outside the womb when they should still be in,” Lujajohnson said, “so holding skin-to-skin is going to help that bonding with Mom or Dad. It also helps with pain control and temperature stability.”

The closeness with their baby in turn helps parents feel less stressed and more connected, she said.

That’s exactly what Austin Glasgow feels as he holds Piper Jo.

Piper Jo skin-to-skin with Austin

“It’s comforting because I’m scared that she’s so small and I feel like she’s so brittle,” he said. “The nurses say she’s not as fragile as you think. To feel her warmth, it soothes me, and I feel like it soothes her. To see her sleeping almost breaks me down every time.”

Sure enough, he sheds a few tears as he’s holding his tiny daughter, the youngest of the couple’s three children.

Despite her size, she is doing well, Kirby said. She doesn’t require any supportive oxygen and is being introduced to breastfeeding, though she gets most of her nourishment through a feeding tube in her nose.

“We’re just trying to get her to pack on the pounds so she can go home,” Kirby said.

Down the hall and around the corner from Piper Jo is another preemie, Emmett Rudolph, born back in January at just 27 weeks’ gestation. He weighed 2 pounds, 2 ounces when he was born but now is up to 7½ pounds, said his mom, Emily.

Emmett and Emily Rudolph

“He’s had a long road to get here, but he’s progressing,” she said as Emmett rested his head on her chest.

As she talks, Emmett opens his eyes and begins to fuss, but his mom calms him quickly with her soothing voice.

“We have skin-to-skin time every day. I know it’s important to help him settle, and I just want him to know that he’s loved,” she said softly. “It makes me feel connected to him. I like that I can do that for him.”

She and her husband, Matt, live in Indianapolis, so they go home most evenings, but they are eager to bring their little boy home with them.

“We worked really hard to get Emmett,” Emily said, as she locked eyes with her son. “He’s our little man.”

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,