We know how perfectly a newborn's body curls against a mother's body. We know close contact with the mother's breathing, heartbeat, and temperature helps to stabilize the baby's vitals through age-old sympathetic biological responses. We know skin-to-skin closeness reduces stress and builds emotional warmth.
It also saves lives, particularly of preemies in the developing world. There's plenty of evidence that what's called "kangaroo care" is as good or better than incubators. In poorly staffed and equipped hospitals, it makes all the difference when preemies are held against their mother's (or father's!) bodies. As Tina Rosenberg, author of Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World, explains in a New York Times article,
Kangaroo care has been widely studied. A trial in a Bogota hospital of 746 low birth weight babies randomly assigned to either kangaroo or conventional incubator care found that the kangaroo babies had shorter hospital stays, better growth of head circumference and fewer severe infections. They had slightly better rates of survival, but the difference was not statistically significant. Other studies have found fewer differences between kangaroo and conventional methods. A conservative summary of the evidence to date is that kangaroo care is at least as good as conventional treatment — and perhaps better.
In much of the world, however, whether a mother’s chest is better or worse than an incubator is not the point. Hospitals have no incubators, or have only a few. ..
The Manama Mission Hospital in southwest Zimbabwe, for example, had available only antibiotics and piped oxygen in its neonatal unit. Survival rates for babies born under 1500 grams (3.3 lbs.) improved from 10 percent to 50 percent when kangaroo care was started in the 1980s. In 2003, the World Health Organization put kangaroo care on its list of endorsed practices.
And of course, we know skin-to-skin contact helps full-term babies as well. They're less stressed, sleep longer, and even in hospitals, noticeably more peaceful.
In my experience, it's nearly impossible to bend hospital regulations when a preemie or seriously ill infant is in an incubator. I could have used the data in these articles to argue my case. I fought for every minute I could hold my daughter against me. What's your experience?
Laura Grace Weldon is the author of Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. She lives on a small farm with her family where they raise bees, cows, chickens, and the occasional ruckus. Laura writes about learning, sustainability, and peace. Connect with her at http://lauragraceweldon.com/blog-2/