November 20, 2019

A Special Bonding: Kangaroo Care Gave Neonatal ICU Baby Josephine a Steady Start

Mission Hospital western North Carolina kangaroo bondingMost expectant parents don’t prepare for their newborn to go into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit [NICU] after labor,” said Caroline Twiggs from Weaverville. “Now I tell friends they should tour the NICU.”

High blood pressure and a prolonged delivery were hard on Twiggs and her husband, Michael Whetsell. But when baby Josephine showed distress, an unplanned C-section became the new plan.

The New Plan

Once Josephine was born August 10 at 1:11 am, the Mission medical team worked on her for 27 minutes. Dad knew something was wrong when they put her on oxygen and began rubbing her body to help her begin breathing.

The team also cleaned away a sticky substance called meconium from her mouth, nose and stomach, which she had breathed in during the birthing process. Meconium is babies’ first bowel movement, and when babies are under stress during labor, it can be found in the amniotic fluid. When it is breathed inside the baby’s lungs, like with Josephine, it affects their breathing and other issues such as lower blood sugar levels.

This family had looked forward to the family-centered care at Mission where babies stay with their parents after birth. “That’s one of the reasons I was super excited to deliver at Mission,” said Twiggs.

“We were at a loss, confused and sad,” said Whetsell. “I went up to see her as soon as possible, and then began the next 13 days of going up multiple times a day, spending time and checking on her in the NICU.”

“Having a sick baby is very worrisome,” said Sarah Perkins, RN, BSN, a Mission Children’s Hospital NICU nurse. Perkins feels it’s a calling for her to care for NICU babies and their families.

Skin-to-Skin Care

“Kangaroo care, or skin-to-skin contact, is a way parents can provide care for their newborn,” said Perkins. “Outcomes are markedly better for babies who experience the loving touch and closeness of their parents.”
The first time Josephine snuggled up to her mom in the NICU, there were numerous wires coming from her tiny body. It took some help getting Josephine positioned on her mom’s bare chest in a recliner in the unit.

“A blanket and my nightgown zipped up around her kept her warm,” said Twiggs. “She just laid there on my chest for about two hours. It was such a sweet moment.”

Skin-to-skin contact with babies has been proven to help stabilize babies’ body temperature, maintain normal blood sugars, stabilize vital signs and achieve normal breathing patterns.

“It was good for me and for her,” said Twiggs. “Once she snuggled in with us, her breathing started to regulate and would match ours. Her heart rate calmed down.”

“Babies know their parents are there and loving on them,” said Perkins. “They feel their parents’ presence, and it truly helps improve their outcomes, which can be critical for very sick, tiny or premature babies. Parents have something to look forward to.”

Daddy-Daughter Time

This is especially true for dads who have a limited role in the NICU when moms are focusing on using a breast pump to provide breastmilk for their baby.

“One time I realized my husband hadn’t held our daughter in over 24 hours,” said Twiggs. “As soon they put Josephine on his chest, the stress he was feeling just rolled off his face. It was really magical.”

“Kangaroo care also increases parents’ comfort and confidence levels as they prepare to take their babies home,” said Perkins. “They know their babies cues and signals.”

“We had the most incredible nursing staff that advocated for us and our daughter,” said Twiggs. “It was an amazing experience.”

“We see miracles every day, overcoming all odds and exceeding expectations,” said Perkins. “It’s very moving.”

Mission Health and Babies:

  • A little over 4,000 deliveries occur at Mission each year.
  • The level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) has over 900 admissions each year and serves high-risk infants born in all 18 western North Carolina counties.
  • The infant transport team averages about 200 high-risk infant transports each year.
  • Nearby sleeping rooms make it easy for new parents to be close to their babies in the NICU.

Sarah Perkins, RN, BSN, is a Mission Children’s Hospital NICU nurse.

To learn more about all of the pediatric experts at Mission Children’s Hospital, visit