Body contact instead of incubator: Kangaroo method helps premature babies for decades
Around 15 million babies are born prematurely each year worldwide. Most of the time, premature babies come into an incubator in their first weeks of life. However, a study has now shown that premature babies who have a lot of physical contact with their mother can still benefit from it even decades later.
Intensive physical contact is important for the baby
According to the "Global Action Report on Preterm Birth 2012" by the World Health Organization (WHO), around 15 million babies are born prematurely worldwide each year. The term premature birth is used if the baby is born before the 37th week of pregnancy and has thus spent less than 260 days in the womb. The so-called premature babies only weigh between 500 and 2,500 grams and in many cases are medically cared for in the incubator during the first weeks of life. They therefore have much less physical contact with their parents. A new study shows how important intensive physical contact is for the little ones.
Kangaroo method can avoid death
According to health experts, the number of premature babies is increasing worldwide. There are a number of reasons why you should give birth prematurely. Common causes are multiple pregnancies, infections and chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
In addition, pregnancy complications, smoking or psychosocial factors such as chronic stress can be a trigger, in many cases no clear reason can be found.
Over a million premature babies worldwide die in the first few months of life. Experts, such as employees of the organization "Save the Children", have been pointing out for years that the number of deaths could be significantly reduced if mothers were shown how to warm their children with the so-called kangaroo method when worn on the chest can hold. But there are other good reasons for this method.
Children still benefit after decades
A scientific study has now confirmed that direct skin contact is good for premature babies. The long-term study on the kangaroo method has shown that premature babies still benefit from intensive physical contact with their parents decades later.
In the study, which was carried out with the support of Canadian researchers in Colombia's capital, Bogota, the underweight premature babies were worn, warmed and nursed by their mothers a lot on bare skin, reports the news agency dpa.
The family is trained in dealing with the tiny ones
In addition, the entire family was involved and trained in dealing with the tiny ones. The control group were babies, who cared for helpers in their first months of life in a conventional manner, especially in the incubator.
The adolescents were interviewed and examined 18 to 20 years after birth. In total, data from 264 premature babies born between 1993 and 1996 with a birth weight of less than 1,800 grams were taken into account.
Less aggressive and impulsive
As the scientists report in the specialist journal "Pediatrics", there were clear advantages for premature kangaroo. According to the information, they are on average less aggressive, impulsive and hyperactive than those who spent most of their first weeks in the incubator.
In addition, the authors around Nathalie Charpak from the Fundación Canguro in Bogota write that the death rate of premature kangaroo was noticeably lower than that of the control group in the incubator.
Furthermore, her brain grew stronger, especially in the areas that are important for learning. The intelligence quotient was somewhat higher, especially among the very delicate babies, 20 years later.
The researchers also found that children in the kangaroo program performed better at school and were less likely to be absent from school. On average, they earned more as young workers.
Loving mood in the family
The scientists also explain the positive consequences of the fact that the parents of the kangaroo group, thanks to the accompanying training, knew better about the needs of babies and continued to implement this knowledge.
This had an effect especially for poorer families with a low level of education: "Everyday activities at home have the greatest direct impact on a child in the long term."
The program is said to have had a positive impact on the families as a whole. So their cohesion was better and the mood was more loving. In addition, it was found that couples were more likely to stay together if the father had carried his preterm baby around in the towel.
Protection against serious diseases
However, it must be mentioned that the results should still be assessed with caution due to the comparatively small number of participants considered. But other studies also showed positive effects of the kangaroo method.
Canadian researchers at the Université Laval were able to demonstrate that 15-year-olds who were born prematurely and who had increased skin contact with their parents due to the kangaroo method had “comparable brain reactions and functions in certain areas to those born at the time of their birth,” said the Professional association of pediatricians (BVKJ) years ago.
And, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), physical contact can protect against serious illnesses, have a positive effect on breastfeeding and reduce the stress level of mothers.
"We firmly believe that this efficient, scientifically based method can be used in all environments - from those with very limited to those with unrestricted access to healthcare facilities," said Charpak.
Precisely because technology for the care of premature babies is now available in many regions of the world and there are therefore less serious health consequences, it is important to pay attention to the small effects.
“Small effects such as minor cognitive deficits, poor fine motor skills, reduced hearing or vision and impaired concentration can go undetected, but have profound effects on the lives of families.”
Early intimate gatherings
The "kangaroo" is also widespread in German premature infants. “In Europe, the practitioners mainly rely on the psychological benefits that result from the close relationship between parents and their child. The aim is to promote parent-child contact and the relationship with the child. Because the kangaroo method enables early, intimate get-togethers, ”reports the Datteln Children's Hospital on its website.
In addition to the babies, the parents also benefit. They learn how to deal with the fragile-looking little ones, overcome fear of contact and build a relationship. In some cases, premature babies feel secretly guilty because they were unable to deliver their baby for nine months as hoped. (ad)