Low-birth-weight, premature babies who can't yet regulate their own body temperature are usually put in incubators. In 1978, a Colombian pediatrician came up with a way to get around an incubator shortage. In kangaroo mother care, or KMC, a newborn baby weighing 2,000 grams (4.4 pounds) or less is put in a diaper and bonnet and attached to the mother's chest, a handy source of warmth and food. In the November 13 issue of the British Medical Journal, researchers go over some of the studies on kangaroo mother care and advocate its wider use.
This care seems to be as effective as standard care at keeping babies warm, and some evidence suggests that KMC may even be better than standard care. In one study in Colombia, children were randomly assigned to KMC or to traditional care with incubators. After a year, children who'd had KMC had more success with breast-feeding and had milder infections than children who had been in incubators. The KMC children bonded better with their mothers, and the lowest-birth-weight children had shorter hospital stays.
This low-tech care has spread particularly well in developing countries, and the writers say it should also be used in industrialized countries. However, a thorough review of studies on kangaroo mother care found that while KMC looks good, better-designed research studies are needed to decide whether it's better than standard care with incubators.
Find out more: A website from a South African nonprofit organization explains how kangaroo mother care works.
Read the article: Ruiz-Peláez, J.G., et al. "Kangaroo Mother Care, an Example to Follow From Developing Countries." British Medical Journal. Nov. 13, 2004, Vol. 329, pp. 1179-1182.
Article online: (includes pictures of very tiny babies) http://bmj.bmjjournals.com