Skin-to-Skin Kangaroo Care Reduces Up to 36% Infant Deaths


Research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston Children’s Hospital says that skin-to-skin contact can reduce deaths for infants with low birth weight. Low birth weight infants are particularly vulnerable during their first month of life so the researchers encourage skin-to-skin contact, also known as Kangaroo Care, especially in developing countries where conventional treatments are not widely available.

Four million infants die during their first month of life worldwide each year. Health technologies like incubators improve outcomes for infants at a high risk, but this equipment is uncommon in low- and middle-income countries. Ninety-nine per cent of all neonatal deaths occur in these countries due to the lack of facilities.

While Kangaroo Care is particularly useful for low birth weight babies where medical resources are limited, developed and developing countries are moving to normalize Kangaroo Care as a beneficial practice for all newborns and mothers.

For this study, the researchers examined 124 studies published between 2000 and 2014 that looked at skin-to-skin contact as a component of Kangaroo Care. Some of these studies included additional care practices such as close follow-up and breastfeeding in their definition. The practice reduced 36% in mortality and 47% risk of major infection in newborns who weighed less than two kilograms.

Newborns who received Kangaroo Care also had higher levels of oxygen, lower pain measures and head circumference growth. Kangaroo Care also increased up to 50% likelihood of breastfeeding at hospital discharge. Infants who have an hour of Kangaroo Care skin contact are less stressed, meaning breathing rate and heart rate are more stable, enabling them to digest food better when they start to feed. The mother’s chest area is warmer than other parts of the body, preventing newborns from cooling down, which poses a health risk. Babies also pick up some of the mother’s healthy bacteria during skin contact to prevent infection.

Earlier research talked about how skin-to-skin contact also has positive effects to mothers. Medical News Today reports that the maternal stress of being separated from their infants decreased for mothers after skin-to-skin contact was initiated, improving the mothers’ overall experience while in the newborn intensive care unit.

Health care professionals have more evidence that skin-to-skin contact can also decrease parental stress that can interfere with bonding, health and emotional wellness and the interpersonal relations of parents, as well as breastfeeding rates, lead study author Natalia Isaza noted. Isaza added that this simple technique will benefit both parent and child and should be encouraged in all newborn intensive care units.

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