The benefit that premature infants gain from skin-to-skin contact with their mothers is measurable even 10 years after birth, according to the study conducted by Dr. Ruth Feldman, a Professor of Psychology at Bar-Ilan University, and her colleagues. Dr. Feldman is on the faculty of Bar-Ilan’s Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center.
Bar-Ilan Study Finds that Skin Contact Has Long-Term Health Benefits
“In this decade-long study, we show for the first time that providing maternal-newborn skin-to-skin contact to premature infants in the neonatal period improves children’s functioning ten years later in systems shown to be sensitive to early maternal deprivation in animal research,” said Feldman while discussing the findings of her study titled “Maternal-Preterm Skin-to-Skin Contact Enhances Child Physiologic Organization and Cognitive Control Across the First 10 Years of Life.” It was published on January 6, 2014 in Biological Psychiatry.
At ten years of age, the studied children who had received skin-to-skin maternal contact as infants were healthier across the board showing more regular sleep patterns, better overall cognitive control, better neuroendocrine response to stress and more mature functioning of the autonomic nervous system.
“Kangaroo Care” Benefits All Babies
The Bar-Ilan researchers compared standard incubator care to a newer intervention called “Kangaroo Care” (KC), a method that in essence uses mother’s body heat to keep their babies warm. Kangaroo Care has become increasingly popular for newborn infants, especially preterm or low birth weight. During KC an infant is held skin-to-skin against the chest of an adult, usually one of the parents.
The researchers asked 73 mothers to provide skin-to-skin contact (KC) to their premature infants in the neonatal unit for one hour daily for 14 consecutive days. For comparison, the researchers also assessed 73 premature infants who received standard incubator care. Children were then followed seven times across the first ten years of life.
Mothers and Children Both Benefit, Study Finds
Bar-Ilan’s researchers found that during the first six months, mothers in the KC group were behaving with more sensitivity and seemed to automatically express stronger maternal behavior toward their infants. Children in the KC group showed better cognitive skills and executive abilities in repeated testing from those first six months and for the next ten years.
Feldman said, “Kangaroo Care is an easy-to-apply intervention with minimal cost and its multi-dimensional long-term impact on child development calls to integrate this intervention in the care-practices of premature infants across the world.”
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