“Kangaroo care” for preemies has long-term pluses

December 10, 2013

While experts have known that maternal-preterm infant contact produces highly beneficial short-term effects on preemies’ physiology, psychology, and behavior, a new study shows that early and consistent touching between mother and child produces benefits that span the first 10 years of life and potentially beyond.

 

While experts have known that maternal-preterm infant contact produces highly beneficial short-term effects on preemies’ physiology, psychology, and behavior, a new study shows that early and consistent touching between mother and child produces benefits that span the first 10 years of life and potentially beyond.

Researchers from Israel conducted a prospective longitudinal study in which they compared 73 premature infants who received maternal-newborn skin-to-skin contact (ie, “kangaroo care”) for 14 consecutive days with 73 premature infants who received standard incubator care.

They found that those who received kangaroo care had more advanced autonomic functioning (ie, respiratory sinus arrhythmia [RSA]) and enhanced cognitive development and executive functions from age 6 months to 10 years. By 10 years of age, the children showed attenuated stress response, more mature autonomic functioning as evidenced by improved RSA, more organized sleep, better cognitive control, and more reciprocal mother-child relationship behavior. Their mothers also demonstrated greater maternal attachment behavior in the postpartum period and experienced less anxiety.

The researchers comment that their results are not surprising given that mother-infant contact is so deeply rooted in mammalian behavior and in human heritage. They say their findings, along with the accessibility and low cost of kangaroo care, has “salient implications for the care practices of preterm infants” and for public health policy both in developed and developing nations. 

According to the March of Dimes, every year 1 in 9 babies is born too soon, costing society $26 billion annually and exacting a high toll on families. 

 

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