For babies with a low weight at birth, there’s no treatment that even comes close to the effectiveness of “kangaroo care.”
Kangaroo care is the practice of holding a newborn to one’s body, with skin-to-skin contact. It’s also called kangaroo mother care. It takes place throughout the day and also involves breastfeeding. Mothers typically use a harness or wrap of some sort to keep the baby snuggled close. Authors writing in the journal Lancet say extended kangaroo care, at least 12 hours per day, is the best.
In case you hadn’t guessed, the name comes from the Australian marsupial. A mama kangaroo carries her young in a pouch on her abdomen.
The researchers’ study of kangaroo care involved 8,400 babies in a northern state of India. The babies all were 72 hours old or less when enrolled in the study, and weighed between 3.3 and 5 pounds.
India has a high rate of low birthweight babies. And, hospitals in India don’t have enough equipment, such as infant incubators, to help these babies mature. Moms are often sent home within hours of birth, even if their babies arrived early.
The scientists kept up with participating families for the first several months of the babies’ lives. They found babies whose mothers used kangaroo care at least 12 hours per day were 30% less likely to die in the first month of life. Looking at the babies’ first six months, the risk of death was reduced by a quarter.
Those are big results for such simple, low-cost care. In a country like India, where hundreds of millions of people live in poverty, easy wins like these are essential. And the benefits of establishing a strong bond between mother and child can last a lifetime.