Kangaroo mother care: Skin-to-skin contact for preterm babies

Around the world, 15 million babies are born too soon. Unfortunately, 1 million will not survive and those who do, will suffer lifelong consequences throughout their lives. They will live with physical and mental disabilities: learning difficulties, visual and hearing problems and sometimes autism.

But last month, good news came for parents and families of preterm babies across the globe. According to a study in the Journal of Pediatrics, the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) could help preterm babies – not only in their childhood but throughout their adulthood as well.

A preterm baby rests on his father's chest as part of the kangaroo care approach.
Kangaroo Mother Care has proven to be beneficial to the development of preterm babies.

The Kangaroo Mother Care method

The Kangaroo Mother Care was developed in Colombia over 20 years ago. It was developed as an alternative to keeping infants in neonatal unit incubators while they gained weight. With continuous skin-to-skin contact, the baby’s mother or father sits in the ‘kangaroo position’ while the baby lays on or against the parent’s bare chest.

The study

The new study compares Kangaroo Mother Care to traditional care and suggests the benefits of skin-to-skin contact after birth may continue well beyond infancy and into young adulthood. With 716 participants, the team of scientists looked to establish whether the documented 1-year benefits continued for up to 20 years and whether it offered a long-term protective effect against cognitive, social and academic difficulties in a randomized block of participants who had weighed <1800g at birth.

The results

The effects of KMC at 1 year on IQ and home environment were still present 20 years later in the most fragile individuals. The results also linked this approach with low school absence, reduced hyperactivity, aggression, externalization, and socio-deviant conduct.

Now, the scientific team hope the KMC ‘skin-to-skin’ method can help the 18 million infants born prematurely or at low birth weight every year. The findings suggest it could reduce some of the many medical and psychological disorders created by these conditions.

Like any study, the results and application do have their own limitations. Still it is encouraging to see research looking for new and progressive ways of caring for preterm babies. 

Read more about the study: Twenty-year Follow-up of Kangaroo Mother Care Versus Traditional Care – December 2016