ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Hospitals across the country are joining a national effort to enhance care for newborns by encouraging skin-to-skin contact through something known as “kangaroo care.”

After receiving a challenge from a hospital in Canada, Mercyhealth’s neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) is competing to provide the most skin-to-skin hours between new mothers and their newborns than any hospital across the country.

“Kangaroo care” means the mother holds the child against their chest for hours at a time after birth.

Physicians say it’s especially important in the hours and days after delivery.

Studies have shown that skin-to-skin touch is crucial to a baby’s development, and beneficial for parents, too.

“Most moms, after they provide that skin-to-skin care, they’ll say, ‘oh, that felt so good, that was such a wonderful feeling for me,'” said Mercyhealth’s Family Support Coordinator Anne Herkert.

“Especially being premie babies, oftentimes I feel like it’s not a lot as a parent,” said new mom Christine Kmiecik. “A lot is out of my control, but with the skin-to-skin, it’s something that I am in control of.”

Last year, the hospital clocked in 131 hours of “kangaroo care” over the two week contest period, and this year they are trying to top that by the end of the challenge, on May 15th.