A meta-analysis conducted by Harvard Research team has found that skin-to-skin contact (kangaroo mother care) between mother and infant during the first few days of life improves the survival rates for infants with low birth weight. The study team found that infant death cases were down by more than 35 percent when there was more skin-to-skin contact between mother and child. The study was conducted by a team of medical researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The meta-analysis checked the impact of kangaroo mother care (KMC), typically used along with exclusive breastfeeding. The positive impact was also noticed in case of heavier or full-term babies. During the first few days of life, the touch between mother and child is really important, the study team noted. Among heavier infants, the impact of kangaroo mother care was noticed in terms of better temperature regulation and pain tolerance.
More than four million babies die each year during the first month of life. Preterm infants and those born with low birth weight are at higher risk. Improvement in early childcare has been linked to lower risk of death during the first month of life.
Complete details of the meta-analysis have been published in the online issue of journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by Saving Newborn Lives initiative (SNL) of Save the Children.
Study senior author Grace Chan, MD, MPH, PhD, instructor at Harvard Chan School said, “While KMC or skin-to-skin care is particularly useful for low birth weight babies born where medical resources are limited, developed and developing countries are moving to ‘normalize’ KMC or skin-to-skin as a beneficial practice for all newborns and mothers.”
Study authors Dr. Ellen Boundy and senior author Dr. Grace Chan, public health researchers at Harvard University in Boston said, “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.”
After conducting meta-analysis of 124 previously published studies, kangaroo care has been linked to 36 percent lower mortality among low birth weight newborns, compared to conventional care.
Reuters report on the issue said, “By the time they left the hospital, women practicing kangaroo care were 50 percent more likely to exclusively breast-feed their babies, the analysis found. By one to four months, the practice was linked to 39 percent higher odds of exclusive breastfeeding.”
Lead author Ellen Boundy, SD ’15, who worked on the study while at Harvard Chan School and is an epidemiologist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Chan, and co-authors analyzed 124 studies published between 2000 and 2014 that looked at skin-to-skin contact as a component of KMC. Some studies included additional care practices such as breastfeeding and close follow-up in their definition of KMC.
They found that among newborns weighing less than 2000 grams (4.4 pounds) who survived to receive KMC, there was a 36% reduction in mortality and 47% lower risk of sepsis or major infection. Newborns who received KMC also had higher oxygen levels and head circumference growth, as well as lower pain measures. In addition, KMC increased the likelihood of exclusive breastfeeding at hospital discharge by 50%. The results were relatively consistent across low- middle- and high-income countries.
The meta-analysis combined studies which examined the effect of kangaroo mother care (KMC) or skin-to-skin care, typically practiced with exclusive breastfeeding, on neonatal outcomes. The most dramatic reduction in mortality rates was for low birth weight or preterm babies. Among heavier or full-term babies, there were also beneficial effects on their oxygenation, temperature regulation, and pain tolerance.
“While KMC or skin-to-skin care is particularly useful for low birth weight babies born where medical resources are limited, developed and developing countries are moving to ‘normalize’ KMC or skin-to-skin as a beneficial practice for all newborns and mothers,” said senior author Grace Chan, MD, MPH, PhD, instructor at Harvard Chan School and a faculty member at Boston Children’s Hospital.