Skin-to-skin contact vital for premature babies

Kangaroo care may help cut risk of learning disorders and cerebral palsy

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More mother and baby skin-to-skin contact could cut disability rates in premature babies, say UK experts.

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Prolonged skin-to-skin contact, also known as ‘kangaroo care’, could help reduce some instances of learning disorders and cerebral palsy in babies born before 37 weeks, says Professor Lawn, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Fifteen million babies are born prematurely every year. Ten per cent of them grow up with severe to mild impairments, and, tragically, one million die. This Sunday is World Prematurity Day, when millions of people around the globe come together to help raise awarrness of premature birth and how it can be prevented.

Professor Lawn believes all premature babies can benefit from lots of skin-to-skin contact from their mother. “The perception is you need intensive care for pre-term babies,” she says. “But 85% of babies who are born prematurely are only six weeks early or less. They do need help feeding, with temperature control and they are more prone to infection but, unless they are so premature that they need help breathing, kangaroo care is actually better because it promotes breastfeeding and reduces infection.”

Studies this week also show that boys are more likely to be born prematurely than girls because, think researchers, women pregnant with boys are more likely to have problems – such as pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure – that are associated with preterm births.

“Even in the womb, girls mature more rapidly than boys,” says Professor Lawn, “which provides an advantage, because the lungs and other organs are more developed.”

World Prematurity Day is on Sunday, November 17.

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