Save Preemie Babies, Increase Skin-to-Skin Contact


Premature newborns that experience prolonged skin-to-skin contact with moms while still in the hospital have a lower risk of death.

Premature newborns that experience prolonged skin-to-skin contact with moms while still in the hospital have a lower risk of death.


The concept of mothers holding their tiny infants against the chest, skin-to-skin, with a blanket over the baby, dubbed “kangaroo care,” was found to regulate the newborn’s body temperature, improve vital signs like heart rate and breathing, and promote breast-feeding.


The latest review of 124 international studies, published in the journal Pediatrics, also confirmed that prolonged skin-to-skin contact could lower the risk of sepsis in preterm babies.


The major finding across all the studies was that administering kangaroo care coupled with standard medical care resulted in 36% lower death rate than solely giving them standard medical care. These infants also had approximately half the risk of developing sepsis, 78% lower risk of hypothermia, and an 88% lower risk of dangerously low blood sugar.


It is important to note, however, that as these studies were conducted across the globe, some countries’ definition of standard medical care varies.


According to Grace Chan, MD, Harvard School of Public Health and Boston Children’s Hospital, the majority of the studies observing deaths and serious infections were completed in low- or middle- income countries, where those specific complications were more common than in the US and other prominent countries.


Chan continued, “The mechanisms through which kangaroo care is believed to work – for example, through stabilization of temperature and other vital signs, and increased breastfeeding – are likely to be the same across settings. And that could lead to improvements in outcomes for infants in US neonatal intensive care units, as well.”


Siobhan Dolan, MD, medical advisor, March of Dimes, commented, “Kangaroo care helps by improving preemies’ body temperature regulation, and by stabilizing their heart and breathing rates, but, we may not even know every pathway, medically, that it’s working though.”


While in many US hospitals full-tem babies are given skin-to-skin contact with moms immediately following birth, it’s not yet considered routine for all healthcare providers.


To effectively incorporate this type of care, Chan acknowledged further education is key for staff and parents on the benefits and effective implementation of kangaroo care, particularly since many may hesitate to administer it with the weakest newborns.

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