What Kangaroo Care Does for Your Preemie

Skin to skin contact linked to better brain development

(RxWiki News) Humans can learn a lot from kangaroos. In fact, they already have, at least when it comes to giving birth to tiny preemies.

Okay, so maybe the idea of human Kangaroo Mother Care is not exactly the same as the care a real kangaroo gives her young, but the special skin-to-skin technique for human preemies is beneficial for the tiny humans.

And it helps to better develop the little babies' brains too, according to a recent study.

"Close contact is best for babies."

In Kangaroo Mother Care, a baby born premature remains on a mother's chest, skin-to-skin, instead of going into an incubator in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Now, a study led by Cyril Schneider, PhD, of the Department Rehabilitation in the Faculty of Medicine at Universite´ Laval in Quebec, Canada, has found that babies who received kangaroo care as preemies had better cognitive function as teenagers than babies who had been kept in incubators.

Past research has already shown that babies born before the 33rd week of pregnancy are at a higher risk for behavioral and thinking problems in childhood and the teen years.

The results of this study may provide a way to reduce that risk through skin-to-skin contact between the mother and her baby.

The study involved three small groups of children: 18 who were born premature (before 33 weeks) and kept in incubators, 9 who were born at term (at least 38 weeks of pregnancy) and 21 who were born premature but received kangaroo care for nearly a month on average.

The children were all compared when they were 15 years old using a brain assessment technique called "transcranial magnetic stimulation."

This technique measures muscle responses to the stimulation of certain brain cells. The teens were tested on their brain's level of inhibition and stimulation, how well the cells worked together, how fast messages traveled through neurons and coordination between the left and right hemispheres.

In all these areas, the researchers found that the 21 children who received kangaroo care had similar brain function and power as the 9 babies who were born at full term.

However, the 18 preemies who had been kept in incubators had significantly different brain responses.

Dr. Schneider proposed that the development of connections between the neurons (brain cells) benefited from the baby's ability to feel the mother's warmth and hear her heart beat.

Senior author Réjean Tessier suggested that incubators simply cannot reproduce the human body completely.

"Infants in incubators also receive a lot of stimulation, but often the stimulation is too intense and stressful for the brain capacity of the very premature," Dr. Tessier said.

"The Kangaroo Mother Care reproduces the natural conditions of the intrauterine environment in which the infants would have developed had they not been born premature. These beneficial effects on the brain are in evidence at least until adolescence and perhaps beyond."

The researchers are now expanding their work to look at larger groups of premature born individuals.

The study was published in the October issue of the journal Acta Paediatrica. The research was funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Fonds

Review Date: 
September 24, 2012