Kangaroo care promotes better brain, heart function in premmie babies

 Kyhala Dunn with her twins Oscar & Amelia. Kyhala participated in the Kangaroo Care trial.

PREMATURE babies have better heart and brain function when held by the parent in skin-to-skin contact.

A world-first study, led by Monash University, found skin-to-skin contact significantly improved blood flow to the brain and cardiac function, in comparison to measurements done in the incubator.

Parent-infant skin-to-skin care (SSC) or kangaroo care, started in the late 1970s in Columbia when incubators to keep babies warm were not available.

It is now widely recognised as a beneficial component of holistic care provided for pre-term infants.

The study, which included 40 pre-term babies born at around 30 weeks, was led by Professor Arvind Sehgal, Neonatologist & Head of Neonatal Cardiovascular Research at Monash Children’s Hospital and Professor of Paediatrics at Monash Health.

It found that just one hour of kangaroo care made a huge difference.

Improving blood supply is important as it carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain and other organs, and guides neurodevelopment.

“The findings of our study are significant as this is a low cost intervention, easily applicable to infants in neonatal units across the world, and helps the most vulnerable of the populations we care for,” Professor Sehgal said.

Kyhala Dunn with her twins Oscar & Amelia. Kyhala participated in the Kangaroo Care trial.
While a common practice worldwide, barriers still remain.

These include concerns that infants might get cold or small premature babies are unstable and might not tolerate this handling, leading to compromised heart function or unstable blood pressure. However in this study, infants maintained their temperature (in fact, slightly higher than baseline), when measured one hour after skin-to-skin.

“SSC is perhaps the normal physiological state, while the stress response of being separated from parents is the status of the pre-term infants the vast majority of the time,” Professor Sehgal said.

“We hope this study encourages neonatal units around the world to promote kangaroo care, as well as reassure places where this is already being practised, that the effort and commitment from staff and parents is worthwhile.”

Previous noted benefits include:
Reduced stress and crying, increased parent-infant bonding. It is also beneficial to parents (mothers) as well as it reduces stress and increases breast milk supply.