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‘Kangaroo care’ linked to healthier babies

According to a new study published by Pediatrics, the key to a healthy childhood and adolescence for premature babies is a whole lot of cuddling. At least, it seems to be a big part of what premature babies need the most in order to thrive later on in life.

The study, which was conducted in Columbia, followed 716 premature and low-weight babies born between the years of 1993 and 1996. Researchers reconnected with 441 of these families between 2012 and 2016, comparing the health, lifestyle and social functioning of a control group and a group given kangaroo care after birth.

Kangaroo care is a care strategy used for low-weight and premature babies. Created in 1979 by doctors Rey and Martinez, it was originally developed as a response to a shortage of incubators in Columbia and an increase of aggressive infections in hospitals. Kangaroo care quickly spread worldwide as an alternative to incubator care.

There are three components to kangaroo care: plenty of skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding as frequently as the mother is able and an early discharge from the hospital with thorough follow up by hospital staff.

The results of this study confirmed that the group of infants receiving kangaroo care fared better over the course of 20 years. Members of this group seemed to have fewer schooling difficulties, specifically those most typically seen in very premature and low birth-weight babies. These children were also less hyperactive and aggressive. Researchers hypothesized that kangaroo care may provide more opportunity for brain tissues and pathways to develop during the first year. Additionally, it is believed that kangaroo care benefits more than just the children: it reorients the entire family to be more child-centric by encouraging intense paternal involvement. This likely explains the behavioral changes and improved social functioning seen in this group.

It’s important to note that this study was able to establish a correlation but not a cause — they’re still looking to prove their hypotheses about why kangaroo care seems to go hand-in-hand with healthier and happier kids. More research is needed on the topic moving forward, but for now, researchers in Columbia are working hard to get the message out that kangaroo care is the preferred approach to care of preterm and low birth-weight babies whenever possible.

Expecting parents at risk for preterm birth or parents of children born prematurely can use this information to confidently advocate for kangaroo care as part of their child’s care plan. Kangaroo care is inexpensive, encourages a strong bond between parents and the baby, plays a role in stabilizing the most medically fragile babies and encourages much-needed weight gain.

And maybe, just maybe, more studies like these will put that age-old question to rest: “Can I spoil my baby by holding her too much?” No! Premature or full-term, new parents everywhere should take the hint: Cuddle their new babes for as long and as often as their hearts desire. It’s for their own good.

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