Premature infants who have prolonged skin-to-skin contact with their mother when they are in the hospital after being born, could have better chances of survival, according to a new study.

Experts noted that the analysis of 124 worldwide studies confirmed the value of “kangaroo mother care” for premature and underweight newborns.

Kangaroo care, or skin-to-skin care, is a technique practiced on newborns, usually preterm, where the infant is held, skin-to-skin, with an adult. Credit:

Scientists noted that an estimated 4 million infants die every year during their first four weeks of life. Infants who are born pre-term or at low birth weight, face a greater risk of death, serious illness, developmental delays, and chronic disease.

The new study, led by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts, was published on Dec 22 in Pediatrics.

The concept of KMC became known in the 70s, when a Colombian doctor began to defend the practice as an alternative to incubators – which are not available in some parts of the world. Instead, it was suggested that mothers keep their newborn in their chest, so that the skin of both stay in contact.

The research carried since then has shown that kangaroo care not only regulates body temperature of newborns, but also improves other vital signs – such as heart rate and breathing – and promotes breastfeeding.

Researchers confirmed that for premature newborns, kangaroo care can also reduce the risk of sepsis (a type of severe bloodstream infection), as well as decrease the odds of babies having extremely high or low body temperature, and increase the chances of survival in infants. These can only be achieved with skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the baby of up to 21 hours per day.

In the study, investigators established that newborns babies with low birth rates of 4.4 lbs. that were given the kangaroo care with standard medical care, had a lower mortality rate by 36 percent than those that provided only standard care. They also had half the risk of sepsis, a 78 percent lower risk of hypothermia and an 88 percent lower risk of hypoglycemia. K.M.C. babies were significantly less likely to be readmitted to the hospital.

However, the researchers caution that since the studies were conducted in several countries, the definition of “standard” medical care varied. Most studies examining the deaths and serious infections were conducted in countries with low and middle-income countries, where these complications are much more common than in the United States and other developed countries, said Dr. Grace Chan, the study’s lead author and public health researcher at Harvard University in Boston, according to Health Day.

However, Kangaroo care can still have an impact when used in conjunction with advanced medical care, she commented.

While the benefits of the kangaroo style care have been more or less assessed, scientists still have many questions to answer, as explain why this new care is so effective.

So far they have only come to some hypotheses. It is possible that being in direct contact with the mother’s skin protects the baby against possible infections since the baby’s skin is still underdeveloped. The mother can also keep a close eye on the baby and notice any signs of infection in time.

Source: Reuters