According to a new analysis of previous research, babies born with a low birth weight who are frequently held by their mothers skin-to-skin – or ‘kangaroo style’ – may have a lesser risk of dying prematurely.
Researchers, in the analysis, went through 124 studies that examined the relationship between kangaroo mother care and health outcomes in newborns.
Newborns born with a low birth weight – less than 2 kilograms (4.4lbs) – who received kangaroo mother care, had a 36% less chance of dying prematurely, compared with newborns with low birth weight who did not receive kangaroo mother care, the researchers found. Furthermore, the babies with a low birth weight who received kangaroo mother care had a 47% less risk of sepsis – a critical illness that happens when the body experiences an overwhelming immune response to an infection – compared with the newborns who did not receive kangaroo mother care, researchers found.
In a statement, Dr. Grace Chan, an instructor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and co-author of the analysis, said that while kangaroo mother care is especially useful for babies born with a low birth weight where medical resources are limited, developing and developed countries are moving to ‘normalize’ kangaroo mother care as an advantageous practice for all mothers and their newborns.
In 68% of the 124 studies involved in the analysis, the authors defined kangaroo mother care as prolonged and continuous skin-to-skin contact between the newborn and the mother. In 13% of the studies, the authors defined kangaroo mother care as a mixture of frequent skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding. In 19% of the studies, kangaroo mother care also comprised an early discharge from the hospital or close follow-up, in addition to breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact.
In 66% of the studies involved in the analysis, the doctors who did the studies recommended fewer than 4 hours each day of kangaroo mother care between the mother and the baby, and in 25% of the studies, 22 or more hours of kangaroo mother care each day was recommended by doctors. In the remaining studies, the doctors who performed the studies recommended between 4 and 21 hours of skin-to-skin contact a day.
In order to maximize the health benefits of kangaroo mother care for babies, the World Health Organization presently recommends continuous skin-to-skin care for as much time as possible each day, Chan stated. According to some data, more than 22 hours each day is beneficial, but really difficult to do. Between 8 and 12 hours would likely be helpful, Chan added.
It is not really clear why kangaroo mother care may be beneficial for newborn babies’ health and survival, the researchers commented. An explanation could be that since skin acts as a protective barrier against infections, and the skin of several preterm babies has not yet fully developed, keeping the baby very close to the mother could protect the baby from coming in contact with organisms that could result in infections, according to Chan.
Furthermore, having the newborn in close contact with the mother may enable the mother to spot signs of infection or other illnesses early on and therefore seek medical attention sooner, stated Chan.
The new analysis was published on Tuesday in the journal Paediatrics.