A systematic review published in BMJ Global Health that includes an analysis of 31 studies concludes that the method known as 'skin-to-skin' - or 'kangaroo care' - used with premature or low-weight babies can reduce the risk of mortality by 32% and the risk of serious infections by 15%. The research, funded by the World Health Organisation, shows that starting the technique within 24 hours of birth and carrying it out for at least eight hours a day increases its effectiveness.
The study is of good quality. Meta-analyses analyse studies of the same type by adding up the number of participants in each study.
Kangaroo care' refers to skin-to-skin contact between the preterm baby and its mother, father or other relative. It has been known since 1978. There is strong evidence of its advantages over traditional (incubator) care in reducing mortality, nosocomial infections, apnoeas (episodes of respiratory pauses), hypothermia (reduction in body temperature), and in increasing and facilitating breastfeeding and mother-infant bonding. The latest Cochrane review dates from 2016. Different meta-analyses on particular aspects of 'kangaroo care' have been published in the last two years.
This study confirms the reduction of mortality, by a very high percentage (32 % on average). Another new finding is that the earlier kangaroo care is started and the more hours per day it is used, the better the results.
Are there any limitations to be taken into account?
They recognise that they cannot generalise these results to extreme preterm infants, who are the most fragile and in whom more mortality and sequelae have been described.
What are the clinical consequences of this work?
It confirms the advantages of 'kangaroo care', which is becoming more and more widespread, and emphasises starting early and practising it at least eight hours a day.
- Research article
- Peer reviewed
- Systematic review