At-risk newborns benefiting from "kangaroo care" at Riley Hospital

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Doctors in Indianapolis are taking a note from kangaroos to care for at-risk babies.

The latest treatments and monitoring devices for premature and sick infants are sophisticated and impressive. But along with the technology, doctors at IU Health Riley Hospital for Children are finding success prescribing a personal touch.

Baby Ethan was born at 25 weeks, nearly three months early, weighing just one pound, 14 ounces. On the third day of his life, Riley NICU doctors recommended Kangaroo Care.

It's skin-to-skin, swaddled contact, which less-developed nations have tried to mimic expensive and out-of-reach high-tech incubators or isolettes for at-risk newborns.

"It's so important for babies to have that touch and the connection with their parents. It really does make a big difference and even though we are a place - like a lot of places in this country - that can offer medical technology, that there are things that parents can do that only parents can do," said IU Health Riley Neonatologist Dr. Jayme Allen.

So for as many hours a day as possible, Stephanie Curran of Avon reclines and makes sure she is skin-to-skin with Ethan.

"I love it. I love it," she said. "It's different not being able to pick up your baby the normal way."

In addition to better parental bonding, study after study says the babies do better.

"Babies doing skin-to-skin care tend to have more stable temperature, more stable heart care and breathing rates and, overall, has a calming effect and have better sleep," Allen said. "Have better feeding tolerance, have improved weight gain and some studies have even shown have earlier hospital discharge."

Ethan is already up to three pounds and his doctor credits, in part, kangaroo care.

"This little boy has been able to do that with his family and I believe it's had a big impact on how well he's done," Allen said.

Right now, the target is to take Ethan home near his July due date.

"I think I will probably do this a lot until then," Curran said.

He has feeding, breathing and weight goals to meet first, but as he matures, his mom is grateful to add her touch.

"I just want to thank all the doctors and the nurses for allowing me to participate in his care, because it's not just a baby in a box. That way, you get to be the mom and you don't have to just sit and watch.

It's also important to note Ethan's father practices kangaroo care, too.