A new study indicates that newborns who receive prolonged skin contact with their mother have a much better chance of beating the odds and growing up well, despite being born premature or underweight.
In cases where the newborn is underweight or has come into this world prematurely, it is imperative that the child spends its first few hours nestled against the mother’s bare chest. Holding the baby next to his or her new mother’s naked body will boost the survival odds, suggests a research review. Incidentally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has long been strongly encouraging skin-to-skin infant care as a way to reduce infant mortality, especially in developing countries, reported Value Walk.
The recent study discovered that besides helping newborns survive the first few hours out of the womb, the technique can help babies fortify themselves for what lies ahead. If the babies are given a few hours just to snuggle close to their mother’s bare body, they could receive a plethora of other health benefits. The skin contact with a newborn is usually followed by exclusive breastfeeding. Doing so could reduce the time the mother has to spend at the health facility after delivery. The skin contact will help develop a strong bond between the mother and her newborn, which could ease the follow-up care at home.
Skin-to-skin contact is commonly referred to as Kangaroo style care and has been recommended by doctors since the 1970s. As expected, it was the general lack of incubators that urged the doctors to come up with ways to help the babies have a safe and healthy transition from the complete protective care accorded by the womb to the unforgiving world, which suddenly forces the baby to do all the tasks that were once handled by the umbilical cord.
As a viable replacement to the incubator, a commodity that was hard to come by in underdeveloped parts of the world, a doctor in Colombia started advocating the process of prolonged skin-to-skin contact. All new mothers were asked to hold their babies against their chest, skin-to-skin. The babies were then carefully covered with a blanket to help retain the body warmth and keep the baby safe but still allow them to breath.
Why does skin contact help? It has been long established that kangaroo care not only regulates newborns’ body temperature, but also improves other vital signs such as heart rate and breathing, reported News Max. The skin contact also promotes breast-feeding.
To establish the health benefits of skin contact immediately after birth, researchers scrutinized 124 separate studies that investigated the relationship between kangaroo mother care and health of newborns. They were not only able to reaffirm the value of “kangaroo care” for premature newborns, but also discovered other benefits the method offered.
Simple prolonged skin contact was associated with 36 percent lower mortality among low birth weight newborns when compared to conventional care, reported Fox News. The new review, published in the journal Pediatrics, confirmed that for babies who were born prematurely, holding them closely can also lower the risk of sepsis, a serious blood infection, and boost infants’ survival odds. Research indicated that the risk of sepsis was almost halved. Additionally, skin-to-skin care lowered the risk of hypothermia by 78 percent. Surprisingly, merely holding the newborn close to the chest lowered the risk of dangerously low blood sugar by an astonishing 88 percent.
Despite the extensive benefits from such a practice, its prevalence and recommendation are quite low, lamented lead author Dr. Ellen Boundy and senior author Dr. Grace Chan, public health researchers at Harvard University in Boston, in an email to Reuters Health.
“Despite the evidence of numerous benefits to infants who receive kangaroo mother care, its overall use around the world remains low, and uptake varies greatly across setting and providers. Hopefully our study will provide a clear picture of the evidence on kangaroo mother care to help clinicians, families and policy-makers understand the benefits implementing this practice can have on newborn health.”
Although the risks observed in the study varied vastly across continents and climatic conditions, prolonged skin contact with newborns is critical for their survival and future, indicated the study.
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