According to the World Health Organization, more than 15 million premature babies are born each year. Premature refers to a baby born before 37 weeks of gestation. The rate tends to increase in low-income countries. According to the Center for the Control and Prevention of Diseases, babies who are born preterm are at increased risk of respiratory problems, intellectual disability, among others. Many of these babies’ lives are at risk due to lack of intervention, resources or intensive care. It has been found that maintaining skin to skin contact with their parents for several hours a day helps these at-risk babies.
Kangaroo care is a method that involves the mother holding her baby in diapers, while maintaining skin to skin contact. A blanket is used to cover the baby’s back to keep him warm. It’s called kangaroo care because it simulates how kangaroos carry their babies in their pouch. Several studies have found that kangaroo care promotes healthy development of premature babies, and can even save the lives of at-risk babies.
Ruth Feldman, psychology professor at Bar-Ilan University, studied the long-term effects of kangaroo care. The study compared the development of children who had received kangaroo care with the children who had only been in the incubator. At the age of 10, children who had received this technique slept better, had a more efficient brain function, and higher reasoning skills. The study results suggest that kangaroo care has a positive impact in the control of behavior and higher brain functions. In addition, other studies have found that it helps premature babies stabilize their vital signs, improve their quality of sleep, and gain weight. Also, the practice of kangaroo care can help the baby stay less time in the incubator and recover faster.
The practice of kangaroo care not only benefits the baby, but also the mother. In another study, women who had carried out the technique reported a closer relationship with their children, compared with mothers who had not.
Why it works? Studies suggest that the development of the brain and certain systems of the body, such as the heart rate, are sensitive to the stimulation of maternal contact. When babies are born prematurely, the development of these systems is disrupted. Somehow, kangaroo care manages to simulate the “environment of the uterus” by providing the warmth and maternal contact that developing babies normally get in the womb.
Today, we know that physical contact in a baby, especially in a premature one, is essential for their healthy mental and physical development. Research shows that human contact helps babies develop faster, and even could save their lives. Finally, because of the great benefits that could be obtained, experts suggest the practice of kangaroo care in all babies, regardless of whether or not they are premature.
- Goldman, J. (2013). Why humans and animals rely on social touch. BBC World News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20131014-the-touching-moments-we-all-need
- Gholipour, B. (2014). Kangaroo care may have lasting benefits for human babies. Live Science. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/42445-42445-kangaroo-care-benefits-human-infants.html