Premature Babies See Long-Term Benefits Of Early Skin-To-Skin Contact
January 7, 2014

Kangaroo Care Benefits Seen Ten Years Later

Rebekah Eliason for - Your Universe Online

A new study shows that premature infants continue to reap the benefits of skin-to-skin contact with their mothers even at 10 years of age.

All babies need physical contact as an essential part of their physical and psychological development. Infants who are neglected in hospitals and orphanages and lack physical contact are known to develop problems ranging from depression to failure to thrive. This necessity for touch has scientists wondering what type of contact is essential and how enriching physical contact may be beneficial.

Dr. Ruth Feldman, professor at Bar-Ilan University, along with her colleagues, conducted the study, researching the impact that different levels of physical contact have on premature infants.

“In this decade-long study, we show for the first time that providing maternal-newborn skin-to-skin contact to premature infants in the neonatal period improves children's functioning ten years later in systems shown to be sensitive to early maternal deprivation in animal research,” said Feldman.

For this study, researchers specifically compared the standard incubator care to a unique type of intervention known as “Kangaroo Care” (KC). Originally, KC was developed in Columbia to manage hypothermia risk in areas that struggle from a lack of access to incubators. Unique to KC, a premature infant is placed next to the mother’s skin and her body heat is used to keep the baby warm.

Researchers asked 73 mothers to use Kangaroo Care with their premature babies, who were in the neonatal unit, for one hour a day fourteen days in a row. As a comparison, 73 premature infants who were given the standard incubator care were also assessed. All of the children were evaluated seven times throughout the first ten years of their lives.

During the first 5 years, researchers discovered that mothers who gave Kangaroo Care showed more sensitivity and maternal behavior toward their children. Also the group of babies who received KC repeatedly exhibited better cognitive skills and executive abilities through testing from six months to ten years

When the children were tested at ten years, those who had experienced the skin-to-skin care from their mothers showed more organized sleep, better neuroendocrine response to stress, more mature functioning of the autonomic nervous system and better cognitive control.

“This study reminds us once again of the profound long-term consequences of maternal contact,” commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “The enhanced level of stimulation provided by this contact seems to positively influence the development of the brain and to deepen the relationship between mother and child.”

Approximately twelve percent of infants are born prematurely in industrial societies and an increasing percentage in developing countries. Consequently, premature birth is a major health concern worldwide. Because of modern medicine, many premature infants survive, but they often suffer from long term cognitive difficulties and problems with the neurobiological systems that support stress regulation and the organization of arousal and attention.

Feldman said, “Kangaroo Care is an easy-to-apply intervention with minimal cost and its multi-dimensional long-term impact on child development calls to integrate this intervention in the care-practices of premature infants across the world.”

This study was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.