Skin-to-skin contact with mothers could boost a baby's brain development and function

Skin-to-skin contact with mothers could boost babies' brain development

New US research has found that Kangaroo Care, which is a method of caring for babies which involves skin-to-skin, chest-to-chest contact, could promote neurophysiological development in newborns.

Carried out by researchers at Florida Atlantic University, the new study looked at 33 mothers assigned to a Kangaroo Care group who were taught proper Kangaroo Care procedures by a certified trainer while pregnant.

After their babies were born, 16 of the mothers were asked to use the skin-to-skin, chest-to-chest Kangaroo Care with their newborn for one hour a day for a period of six weeks. They were also asked to record how much they used Kangaroo Care in a journal. The other 17 mothers acted as a control group and were given infant feeding pillows along with journals to record infant feedings over the six weeks.

To measure the babies' brain development, specifically activity in the left frontal area of the brain, the researchers placed a Lycra stretch cap over the babies' heads at three months of age to measure activity.

The researchers also measured levels of a hormone called oxytocin in the mothers' and babies' urine, which is also known as the "cuddle" hormone as it is linked with caregiving and affectionate behavior. Levels of cortisol, known as the "stress" hormone, were also measured using saliva samples.

The findings, published in the journal Infant Behavior and Development, showed that in the babies who received six weeks of Kangaroo Care during their first three months of life, the left frontal area of the brain (which is used in cognitive and emotional regulatory skills) appeared to be more stimulated, compared to the babies in the control group who received standard care.

In addition, the mothers and babies in the Kangaroo Care group also showed increased oxytocin levels and lower stress levels.

The researchers say the findings suggest that caring for babies with skin-to-skin contact and emphasizing mother-infant touch is essential for promoting neurophysiological development.

"We wanted to know if exposure to extended tactile stimulation using the Kangaroo Care method would increase peripheral basal oxytocin and suppress cortisol reactivity in the babies in our study," said Nancy Aaron Jones, PhD, senior author. "We also wanted to examine if Kangaroo Care increases oxytocin levels in mothers, which has important implications for postpartum depression."

"Our findings across several studies demonstrate a link between the supportive dimensions of maternal caregiving behavior and left hemisphere neurodevelopment, with maternal warmth and sensitivity predicting greater regulatory abilities and secure attachment," said Jones. "Full-term infants and their mothers likely benefit from the positive interactive experiences inherent in extended Kangaroo Care use."