ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS Atlanta) – Even 10 years after birth, skin-to-skin contact premature infants receive from their mothers benefits them physically and psychologically.

According to a new study published in Biological Psychiatry, researchers studied the impact of different levels of physical contact on prematurely born babies.

“In this decade-long study, we show for the first time that providing maternal-newborn skin-to-skin contact to premature infants in the neonatal period improves children’s functioning ten years later in systems shown to be sensitive to early maternal deprivation in animal research,” Dr. Ruth Feldman, a Professor at Bar-Ilan University and a researcher apart of the study stated in a press release.

Feldman and other researchers compared an intervention called “Kangaroo Care” (KC) to standard incubator care.  KC was originally developed to manage the risk for hypothermia in premature infants in Columbia because the country struggled with a lack of access to incubators.  The mother’s use of body heat is what they use to keep their babies warm in this method.

In the study, researchers had 73 mothers provide KC or skin-to-skin contact to their premature babies in the neonatal unit for one hour daily for 14 consecutive days.  To compare, researchers also assessed 73 premature babies who received standard incubator care.  Across the first 10 years of life, those children were followed seven times.

Researchers found that mothers in the KC group were more sensitive and expressed more maternal behavior toward their infants and the children showed better cognitive skills in the first half-year of life.  The children also had executive e abilities in repeated testing from six months to 10-years-old.

Children who received maternal contact as infants showed more organized seep, better neuroendocrine response to stress, more mature functioning of the autonomic nervous system, and better cognitive control when they reached the age of 10.

“This study reminds us once again of the profound long-term consequences of maternal contact,” commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, in the press release. “The enhanced level of stimulation provided by this contact seems to positively influence the development of the brain and to deepen the relationship between mother and child.”


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