Kangaroo mother care helps preemies

December 13, 2016 Providence Health Team

Keeping vulnerable babies close, skin to skin, benefits them not just as infants, but also into adulthood, according to a new study.

The study out of Colombia has found that “kangaroo” mother care – defined as continuous skin-to-skin contact between the mother and her premature or low birth-weight infant, including breastfeeding – continues to pay off in terms of emotional health and intelligence.

Extending the kangaroo mothering study

Researchers who pioneered the original studies into the benefits of kangaroo mothering in the mid-1990s say a follow-up study found a range of improved outcomes for people who received such care versus those who didn’t.

Among the findings, those who received kangaroo mothering:

  • Had lower mortality rates than others
  • Had lower rates of school absenteeism than others
  • Showed lower hyperactivity and aggressiveness than others.

In addition, a subgroup had consistently higher IQ scores than others.

To be sure, the results can’t be attributed solely to the effects of kangaroo mothering, as 20 years of experience, family life and environment also affect the outcomes.

But the findings show that kangaroo mothering “had significant, long-lasting social and behavioral protective effects 20 years after the intervention,” the researchers wrote.

History of kangaroo mothering

Kangaroo mothering is a practice that was developed in Bogota, Colombia, in the 1970s, according to Lydia Furman, M.D., of the Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland. Instead of placing premature and low birth-weight babies in incubators and restricting access to them, Nathalie Charpak, M.D., and others strapped the babies upright against the mother’s chest, encouraged frequent breastfeeding and did not discharge the infants until they reached a weight of 1700 grams, or about 3.75 pounds.

Studies showed the practice paid off quickly in terms of lower mortality rates, fewer infections and lowered stress. Kangaroo mothering “clearly makes the world a better place for babies and families,” Furman wrote.

In the latest study, Dr. Charpak and her colleagues examined 441 of the participants in the original study and found the benefits of kangaroo mothering continued as the children grew.

Because positive effects of the technique were seen in infancy and continued 20 years later, the authors write, “coverage with this efficient and scientifically based health care intervention should be extended to the 18 million infants born each year who are candidates for the method.”

Talk to your health care provider about caring for your baby, whether you’re still pregnant or a new parent. You can find a Providence provider in your area using our geographic directory.

Learn more

We’ve written about the care of babies before and after birth, including premature infants:

Breastfeeding in preemies’ first month boosts brain development
What you need to know about preterm labor
Choosing a health care provider for your baby
The truth about newborn crying

The latest study from Dr. Charpak and her colleagues, “Twenty-year Follow-up of Kangaroo Mother Care Versus Traditional Care,” was published in the journal Pediatrics.

Dr. Furman’s discussion of the study, “Kangaroo Mother Care 20 Years Later: Connecting Infants and Families,” is available on the Pediatrics website.

The Colombia-based Fundacion Canguron (Kangaroo Foundation), headed by Dr. Charpak, provides guidelines and relevant news about the practice.

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