“Kangaroo mother care” (KMC) is a specific technique to help infants born before full term (less than 37 weeks’ gestation) or at low weight (no more than 2,000 g—about 4.4 lb). The method, developed in Colombia in the 1970s as an alternative to care in incubators, has three parts: continuous skin-to-skin contact with the mother, with the baby upright; breastfeeding when possible; and early hospital discharge with close monitoring.
Previous studies of babies and families in Colombia who were followed for one year showed that KMC increased survival and improved neurologic development and mother–child bonding. The researchers have now followed many of the original infants who weighed no more than 1,800 g (not quite 4 lb) at birth and found that the benefits remained 20 years later, and that there were other long-term social and behavioral improvements.
Many of the positive changes, however, were small and not able to be definitively attributed to KMC, especially because, in many ways, KMC has been incorporated into standard care. Still, the researchers noted that with advances in neonatal care overall, more preterm and low-birth-weight infants are being saved and have fewer long-term health problems, so it is important to detect even minor treatable problems. These include mild cognitive deficits, lack of fine coordination, poor hearing, myopia, and attention deficits, all of which can affect success in school and throughout life.
“Our long-term findings should support the decision to introduce KMC to reduce medical and psychological disorders attributable to prematurity and [low birth weight],” the researchers wrote. Similarly, an accompanying editorial noted that the research “brings us closer to optimal care for every infant and family.”—Serena Stockwell
Charpak N, et al. Pediatrics
2017;139(1):e20162063; Furman L. Pediatrics