A method of caring for a baby that involves skin-to-skin contact with the mother, called kangaroo mother care (KMC), improves the chances of survival in premature or low-birth babies, a new study has found.

To give kangaroo care, a baby – wearing only a diaper – is held in an upright position against a parent's bare chest.

Previous studies have shown the skin-to-skin approach of baby care is beneficial for reducing the risk of infections and improving the chances of survival. In the latest study, researchers evaluated more than 15,000 cases of babies to estimate the benefits of KMC in comparison with conventional care and to understand the ideal time to start the intervention.

The research team analyzed 27 studies to compare the KMC with conventional care. By evaluating four other studies that compared the timing at which intervention began, researchers found there was a 33% reduction in neonatal mortality and a 15% reduction in developing clinical sepsis with early initiation of KMC.

Starting kangaroo care within 24 hours of birth and doing it for at least eight hours a day will help reduce the risk of mortality and infections, researchers said.

"Our findings support the practice of KMC for preterm and low birth weight infants as soon as possible after birth and for at least eight hours a day. Future research should focus on overcoming barriers and facilitators to large-scale implementation of KMC in facility and community settings. Data on long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes are also needed," the researchers wrote.

Kangaroo care is beneficial for both the mother and the child. Here are some of the known benefits:

For the child:

  • Stabilizes baby's heart rate
  • Improves breathing pattern
  • Improves oxygen saturation levels
  • Improvements in sleep time
  • Helps in weight gain
  • Reduces crying
  • Helps in breastfeeding

For the mother:

  • Helps in better bonding
  • Improves breast milk supply
  • Gives confidence to take care of baby
  • Increases sense of control

Several studies have shown that kangaroo care during infancy can bring in long-term benefits in adulthood, like bigger brains and better IQ levels. The approach is believed to reduce aggressiveness, impulsiveness, hyperactivity and antisocial behavior.

Starting kangaroo care within 24 hours of birth and doing it for at least eight hours a day are two strategies to improve the effectiveness of the approach to reduce mortality and infection, researchers have found. PAHO/WHO, CC BY-ND 2.0