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Can skin-to-skin contact help save your premature baby?

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Skin-to-skin contact helps save the lives of premature babies

When Australian Kate Ogg gave birth to twins 13 weeks early, one of them, Jamie, died during his birth, “The Today Show” reported. The nurses allowed Kate to hold Jamie against her chest. And, within minutes, he sprang back to life.

“I’d carried him inside me for only six months — not long enough — but I wanted to meet him, and to hold him, and for him to know us,” Kate Ogg told “The Today Show” back in 2010. “We’d resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going to lose him, and we were just trying to make the most of those last, precious moments.”

The story has resurfaced in a viral video posted by Johnson’s Baby, a baby clothing and product company. The video shows Kate and David Ogg discussing the baby’s birth and how their lives have changed for the better since Jamie came back to life. Doctors said it was likely the skin-to-skin contact between Kate and Jamie that helped save the child’s life.

Normally, parents of premature babies don’t get to hold their newborns skin-to-skin after delivery because they are often whisked away to an incubator shortly after birth where they are then nursed to full health. But the Oggs participated in what’s commonly known as “kangaroo care,” a practice in which parents make skin-to-skin contact with their premature baby after the delivery — like how kangaroos keep close contact with their offspring after giving birth.

Experts have long advocated for the use of kangaroo care among premature babies. In fact, experts told BBC in 2013 that kangaroo care helps to decrease the worldwide amount of premature baby deaths, which is one for every 15 premature babies born (about 15 million premature babies are born every year, BBC reported).

Skin-to-skin contact between a mother and premature baby can help preemies eat more and avoid fevers, which is one of their main causes of death, according to Joy Lawn, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who spoke to BBC.

“They need help feeding, with temperature control and they are more prone to infection,” Lawn told BBC. “It’s really only before 32 weeks that their lungs are immature and they need help breathing. Unless there are those breathing problems, kangaroo care is actually better because it promotes breastfeeding and reduces infection.”

A study published in 2007 found that kangaroo care after birth can help stabilize premature babies’ body temperatures and make them more likely to participate in breastfeeding. The study found that premature babies who had skin-to-skin contact with their mothers would latch on to their mother’s breast 74 minutes after birth, which allowed them to gain nutrients from breast milk that would help them stay alive. The kangaroo care also kept the babies’ body temperatures down, which kept them alive.

But there are other ways kangaroo care can help premature children develop.

LiveScience cited a study that found premature babies who received kangaroo care after birth slept better, had better reactions to stress and had better thinking skills than premature babies who were nursed in an incubator after their birth. The skin-to-skin contact creates a womb-like environment for prematurely born children, who then develop as though they were in a womb, LiveScience reported.

“Therefore, by holding premature babies in parents’ arms, doctors hope to re-create the environment in which infants would have developed if they had not been born prematurely,” LiveScience reported.

Other forms of skin contact have been linked to helping children grow and develop, too. I wrote last month about a study published in the National Academy of Sciences that found premature babies develop better listening and language skills when they can hear their mother’s heartbeat. Since babies can hear their mother’s heartbeat in the womb, hearing it again once they’re born helps them to become familiar with the new environment and continue to grow as though they weren’t in the womb, according to the study.

“We can now say with confidence that the psychosocial environment has a material impact on the way the human brain develops,” said Dr. Joan Luby, the study’s lead researcher, according to LiveScience. “It puts a very strong wind behind the sail of the idea that early nurturing of children positively affects their development.”

 

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