Mothers holding low birth weight newborns skin-to-skin linked with lower mortality rates

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Continuous skin-to-skin contact with their mothers during the first days of life may reduce low birth weight infant deaths by more than one-third compared to conventional care, according to a new meta-analysis by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston Children’s Hospital.

The meta-analysis combined studies which examined the effect of kangaroo mother care (KMC) or skin-to-skin care, typically practiced with exclusive breastfeeding, on neonatal outcomes. The most dramatic reduction in mortality rates was for low birth weight or preterm babies. Among heavier or full-term babies, there were also beneficial effects on their oxygenation, temperature regulation, and pain tolerance.

“While KMC or skin-to-skin care is particularly useful for low birth weight babies born where medical resources are limited, developed and developing countries are moving to ‘normalize’ KMC or skin-to-skin as a beneficial practice for all newborns and mothers,” said senior author Grace Chan, instructor at Harvard Chan School and a faculty member at Boston Children’s Hospital.

As many as 4 million babies worldwide die each year during their first month of life, and infants born early or at a low birth weight are at particular risk. Health technologies such as incubators can help improve outcomes in high-risk infants; however, such equipment is not widely available in low- and middle-income countries, where 99% of all neonatal deaths occur.