Premature babies whose mothers practiced “kang..." /> Premature babies whose mothers practiced “kang..." />

‘Kangaroo Care’ for Premature Babies Improves Mental Health

Mother holding and kissing babyPremature babies whose mothers practiced “kangaroo care” had better mental health and fewer behavioral problems than other premature babies, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics. Kangaroo care, sometimes called skin-to-skin contact, is an increasingly popular strategy for increasing breastfeeding success. The study suggests the benefits of skin-to-skin contact after birth may continue well beyond infancy and into young adulthood.

Kangaroo Care for Better Child Outcomes

The study—funded by Grand Challenges Canada’s “Saving Brains” program—followed 716 premature and low birth weight infants. Study participants were born in Colombia between 1993 and 1996. Prematurity and low birth weight are both correlated with negative outcomes in childhood, including a greater risk of cognitive and mental health issues.

Infants were randomly assigned to receive either standard care or kangaroo care. Kangaroo care involves extended skin-to-skin contact between a parent—usually the mother—and child. Babies receiving kangaroo care breastfeed on demand and are positioned shirtless on the parent’s bare chest.

Between 2012 and 2014, researchers followed up with 264 study participants who weighed 1,800 grams (about 4 pounds) at birth. Compared to infants who received standard care, infants whose parents practiced kangaroo care had better mental health and cognitive outcomes.

Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact After Birth

Children who received kangaroo care or skin-to-skin contact after birth:

  • Had a lower mortality rate of 3.5%, compared to 7.7% in the control group.
  • Had lower rates of school absenteeism and spent 23% more time in preschool.
  • Had higher Intelligence Quotients (IQ). Babies in the most vulnerable group scored an average of 3.6% higher on IQ tests.
  • Had wages that were nearly 53% higher than those in the control group.
  • Scored 16% lower on measures of aggression and hyperactivity.
  • Scored 20% lower on externalizing behaviors, which are associated with criminal behavior.
  • Grew larger brains with more gray matter.
  • Had healthier family lives and were more likely to grow up in homes with both parents.

Previous research has found benefits associated with kangaroo care. The World Health Organization recommends mothers and babies have at least one hour of uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact immediately following birth.


  1. Charpak, N., Tessier, R., Ruiz, J. G., Hernandez, J. T., Uriza, F., Villegas, J., . . . Maldonado, D. (2016). Twenty-year follow-up of kangaroo mother care versus traditional care. Pediatrics. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2063
  2. Crenshaw, J. T. (2014). Healthy birth practice #6: Keep mother and baby together–it’s best for mother, baby, and breastfeeding. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 23(4), 211-217. doi:10.1891/1058-1243.23.4.211
  3. Kangaroo mother care helps premature babies thrive 20 years later — study. (2016, December 12). Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Catherine

    December 14th, 2016 at 2:31 PM

    Yes! I love this approach!

  • courtney m

    December 15th, 2016 at 10:36 AM

    I think that science will prove that this method of connecting with a child is going to be beneficial to both parents as well as the children whether they are born pre term or not. There is a special kind of feeling when you have that one on one and skin to skin contact with your new baby, and I am not sure that there is anything else out there that could ever feel better than that.
    I don’t know how involved many hospitals are letting dads get with this method but I think that it is just as important for them to have this same kind of time with their children that we allow and even encourage for new moms.

  • Zosia

    December 19th, 2016 at 9:01 AM

    the benefits look amazing

  • Beth

    March 26th, 2017 at 12:52 AM

    Kangaroo care (KC) is the practice of skin-to-skin contact between infant and parent. In developing countries, KC for low-birthweight infants has been shown to reduce mortality, severe illness, infection and length of hospital stay. KC is also beneficial for preterm infants in high-income countries. Cardiorespiratory and temperature stability, sleep organization and duration of quiet sleep, neurodevelopmental outcomes, breastfeeding and modulation of pain responses appear to be improved for preterm infants who have received KC during their hospital stay. No detrimental effects on physiological stability have been demonstrated for infants as young as 26 weeks’ gestational age, including those on assisted ventilation.

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