For years, the World Health Organization has been encouraging Kangaroo style care or skin-to-skin infant care as a way to reduce infant mortality, especially in developing countries. Now scientists have found that kangaroo-style infant care indeed dramatically reduces the risk of the newborn dying prematurely. Findings of the study were published Tuesday in the journal Pediatrics.

Kangaroo Style Care Significantly Improves Newborn Health [STUDY]

Kangaroo mother care reduces the risk of sepsis by 47%

Researchers analyzed 124 studies that examined the relationship between kangaroo mother care and health of newborns. Babies born with a low birth weight (less than 2 kg) whose bare chests are regularly nestled directly against the skin of their mothers have 36% lower risk of dying prematurely, compared to underweight newborns who did not receive skin-to-skin care.

What’s more, babies that received kangaroo-style care had a whopping 47% lower chance of sepsis, a serious bloodstream illness. About 4 million infants die every year within four weeks of birth. Despite the immense benefits of kangaroo-style care to infants, its use across the globe is still low, said lead author Dr. Ellen Boundy of Harvard University.

8 to 12 hours of skin-to-skin care is beneficial

Co-author Dr. Grace Chan said in a statement that skin-to-skin care is particularly beneficial for low-birth-weight babies where medical resources are limited. But now developed and developing countries are making efforts to “normalize” it as a practice for all newborns and mothers. The World Health Organization recommends continuous skin-to-skin contact between the mother and newborn for as much time as possible per day. Chan told Live Science that 8 to 12 ours of skin contact would be beneficial.

However, researchers are not sure precisely why kangaroo-style care is beneficial for newborns’ health and survival. Skin-to-skin care might help the newborn maintain a healthy body temperature. It may also encourage breastfeeding. Another explanation could be that because skin serves as a protective barrier against infections, having the newborn close to the mother may protect the baby from coming in contact with infectious organisms. The skin of pre-term babies is not fully developed.