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Skin to skin contact between the mother and her new-born baby can have impressive healing and even life-saving effects for the infant.
The human body is not just a dynamic sophisticated biochemical and genetic system; there are strong energetic, emotional and psychological aspects that interact decisively with the physical counterparts of the body and can make a very measurable difference in our physiological functions.
A valid proof of this comes from the neonatal Kangaroo care method (K method), which requires skin to skin contact between the mother and the newborn baby. While this simple intervention provides superior support for preterm, low-weight babies, in comparison to conventional practices, such as the use of incubator, it is rarely included in official hospital policies or recommended to mothers by mainstream experts.
Pediatricians have expressed fears that keeping a preterm baby outside of an incubator during the Kangaroo interaction, may expose the infant to cold with subsequent loss of body heat and lower body temperatures, which can be critical to the survival and wellbeing of weak babies. Research however shows that the exact opposite is happening during the K care method. A study involving low-weight preterm babies (less than 1.5 Kg) and their mothers, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, found that the body temperature of the newborn actually rises when the infant is skin to skin in touch with the mother's chest.
Perhaps the most remarkable story that was brought to the public's attention is the miraculous revival of premature baby boy Jamie Ogg, who, following his birth was pronounced dead by doctors after 20 minutes of resuscitation efforts. His mother put him on her chest and held him for 2 hours, when he suddenly started to gasp for air and was soon breathing normally.
Apart from such dramatic recoveries, clinicians have recorded impressive positive impact of the K method on a variety of physiological and behavioral parameters on newborns. For example, doctors from the Pediatric Department in New Delhi hospital in India conducted a randomized control trial of the effects of the Kangaroo mother care method. 28 mother and low birth-weight baby dyads (baby weight less than 1.5 Kg at the time of birth) were assigned either to the control group (incubator or standard open care) or the K group, where the mother kept the baby in touch with her skin for at least 4 hours per day in no more than 3 sittings. The authors concluded that:
Kangaroo mother care managed babies had better weight gain, earlier hospital discharge and, more impressively, higher exclusive breast-feeding rates. KMC is an excellent adjunct to the routine preterm care in a nursery.
Another study published in the "Pediatric Nursing" magazine found that when newborns received the Kangaroo mother care method, they slept more, were less agitated and exhibited fewer episodes of apnea and bradycardia. Comparing the Kangaroo care method with standard incubator care, a randomized control study published in the magazine "Annals of Tropical Pediatrics" found that the former is by far superior. Infants receiving the kangaroo care gained on average 20.8 grams per day, while the babies in incubator group gained less than half, with 10.2 grams per day. The mortality rate in the Kangaroo method was zero, while 9% of the babies in the incubator group died. Finally, the Kangaroo mother care group, had a significantly shorter stay in hospital, 16.6 vs. 20.7 days for the incubator group.
The available evidence shows that simple skin to skin touch with the mother can have a profound healing effect for sick or premature babies. The Kangaroo mother care method is a non-invasive and very efficient way of restoring vital physiological functions, while strengthening the bond between the mother and her newborn child.
- Ramanathan, K., Paul, V.K., Deorari, A.K., Taneja, U., George, G. 2001. Kangaroo mother care in very low birth weight infants. The Indian Journal of Pediatrics. 68(11):1019-1023 http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02722345
- Daily Mail. 2010. Miracle mum brings premature baby son back to life with two hours of loving cuddles after doctors pronounce him dead. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1306283/Miracle-premature-baby-declared-dead-doctors-revived-mothers-touch.html
- Messmer PR, Rodriguez S, Adams J, Wells-Gentry J, Washburn K, Zabaleta I, Abreu S. 1997. Effect of kangaroo care on sleep time for neonates. Pediatr Nurs. 23(4):408-14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9282055
- Kambarami RA, Chidede O, Kowo DT. 1998. Kangaroo care versus incubator care in the management of well preterm infants--a pilot study. Ann Trop Paediatr. 18(2):81-6. http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/9924567
- Bauer K, Uhrig C, Sperling P, Pasel K, Wieland C, Versmold HT. 1997. Body temperatures and oxygen consumption during skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care in stable preterm infants weighing less than 1500 grams. J Pediatr. 130(2):240-4. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022347697703494