Babies who are kept away from their mother after birth can have a worse life up to 20 years later.
Newborn babies who are cared for in incubators struggle with sleep and emotions as they grow up and become more stressed out as adults, a study has discovered.
But babies who get skin-to-skin contact with their mother don’t have the same problems – even if this happens only for an hour a day.
New research emphasizes the importance of ‘kangaroo care’ – where babies are removed from an incubator and placed naked on their mother’s breast under her clothing as if they were in a kangaroo pouch.
Not all hospitals in the UK offer this, but many offer it for underweight or premature babies around 28 to 30 weeks old.
Babies stay away from their mother in incubators after they are born, can do worse in life up to 20 years later, a study shows. Stock image of skin on skin hugs after birth
Researchers looked at 146 babies, half of whom were separated from their mother and kept in an incubator for about two weeks.
The rest were also born prematurely, but were placed against their mother’s skin for an hour a day.
Their studies show that children who were kept in an incubator slept worse at the age of 10 and struggled to control their emotions.
And the latest findings, after the babies who were kept with their mothers until they were 20 years old, show that their stress levels increased when they were asked to speak in public and have difficulty calculating.
When a young baby makes contact with his mother, it is assumed that this aligns his brain with social behavior at a later age.
Professor Ruth Feldman of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, presented the research in Seattle at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
PREMATURE BABIES THAT HAVE ‘KANGARA CARE’ HAVE BIGGER BRAINS
Premature babies who get skin-to-skin contact with their mother develop better than babies who are placed in incubators, a 2016 study.
The technique, known as “kangaroo”, means that a mother nests her child on her breast – as if she is in a bag – as soon as possible after birth.
The baby is only breastfed and the mother becomes the main source of warmth and stimulation for the first few weeks.
The study, published in the medical journal Pediatrics, followed two groups of premature babies older than 20 years.
The mortality rate among those placed in incubators was more than double that of babies treated with the kangaroo method – 7.7 percent compared to 3.5 percent.
Kangaroo babies spent 23 percent more time in kindergarten and had less than half less school absenteeism. When they went to work later, their average hourly wage was nearly 53 percent higher.
Scores for aggressiveness and hyperactivity were also 16 percent lower, especially among children from lower educated families. And tests after 20 years found a 3.6 percent advantage in IQ for kangaroo babies.
Regarding babies kept in incubators, she said, “Life will be a little harder and I think it will be harder for them to reach their full potential.”
She added: “It is not just touch, it is the entire shell of the mother’s body, and it has many components – the scent of the mother and the body heat of the mother, and the heart rhythm of the mother and the movement of the mother. “
At three months of age, babies who were kept close to their mothers instead of being kept in an incubator were better at regulating their emotions.
They can tolerate difficult situations, such as a loud bell ringing next to them or a toy car with bright flashing lights, longer without responding.
At the age of five, they showed more self-control and were less inclined to tear open a gift that a researcher had told them not to unwrap.
This behavior is linked to how likely it is that people will do well in their education and work when they are older.
At the age of 10, children with a wrist-worn tracker had less trouble falling asleep for five nights, and were better at kinking away after waking up at night, if they had skin-to-skin contact with their mother in their early years life.
The latest results, presented at the AAAS conference and not yet published, show that babies receiving kangaroo care are less vulnerable to adult stress.
These children, aged 20, were asked to speak in front of a panel of intimidating “judges” in white coats, and count back from a high number, subtracting 13.
The situation caused a higher level of the stress hormone cortisol in people who were kept in an incubator without kangaroo care.
These people also showed higher levels of inflammation – a response to all kinds of stress in the body that can lead to physical and mental health problems – and of which Professor Feldman said, “really sets the stage for problems later in adulthood.”
Babies born before 34 weeks of pregnancy may need to be placed in incubators to help with breathing, feeding and warmth. But placed on the mother’s chest, under clothing, they can also be kept warm for a short period.
Professor Feldman said that the benefits of touching at a young age between babies and mothers are likely to apply to all children, not just children born prematurely.
She said: “If we make physical contact with the mother during this critical period, even if it is one hour a day, the child will not be deprived of it for weeks.
“Then this intervention reorganizes the brain.”
Peter Bradley, information and support manager at Bliss, the charity for premature babies, said: “Bliss has long argued for the importance of kangaroo care for premature babies.
“It can help babies calm down, especially if they have painful or painful procedures, but it can also reduce the stress or anxiety of parents.”
Andrew Shennan, professor of obstetrics at King’s College London, said: “Kangaroo care is known to be beneficial to babies, and it is likely that this care can benefit brain development.
‘Around the time of birth, especially in premature babies, inflammation is known to affect the brain and this can be influenced by stress hormones.
“A calming environment associated with kangaroo care will reduce these stress hormones, which could explain the results of the impressive 20-year follow-up, although more research is needed.”