Kangaroo mother care has been part of neonatology’s toolkit for close to 40 years. Characterized by four components — early and extensive skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby, exclusive breastfeeding, early health facility discharge and close follow-up care at home — this form of care was initially conceived as an alternative to incubator-based care for babies born preterm or with a very low birth weight (LBW), particularly in resource-poor parts of the globe.
While there’s extensive literature on KMC’s benefits — including reduced risk of infant morbidity and mortality — it’s been hard to get a complete picture of what the how well the approach works, and what its disadvantages might be. According to Grace Chan, MD, PhD, a researcher at T.H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health and a staff physician in Boston Children’s Hospital’s Intermediate Care Program, most of the reviews or meta-analyses available have focused on particular populations or specific outcome measures, or have only looked at randomized, controlled clinical trials (as opposed to how KMC works in real-world conditions).
In a recent Pediatrics paper, a team led by Chan published what’s probably the most comprehensive analysis of KMC’s benefits and drawbacks to date. By pooling data from 124 observational studies and clinical trials published between 2000 and 2014, the team identified a breadth of beneficial impacts of KMC on LBW infants’ health, including reductions in the risk of:
- mortality (36 percent)
- sepsis (47 percent)
- hospital readmission (68 percent)
- hypothermia (78 percent
- hypoglycemia (88 percent)
“While KMC or skin-to-skin care is particularly useful for low birth weight babies born where medical resources are limited,” Chan said in a statement released by HSPH, “developed and developing countries are moving to ‘normalize’ KMC or skin-to-skin as a beneficial practice for all newborns and mothers.”