New study shows long-term benefits of skin-to-skin contact for newborns, parents

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PROVO, Utah -- A new study from the Journal of Pediatrics is giving parents even more of a reason to hold their newborn bundles of joy.

The study indicates skin-to-skin contact, also known as “kangaroo care”, can have long-lasting benefits, especially for babies who have a low birth weight.

Utah Valley Hospital has the largest NICU in the state, and they say the results of this study come as no surprise.

“It’s been overwhelming, but it’s also been amazing,” said Cara Wadsworth, a new mother.

At 20 weeks pregnant, Wasdsworth and her husband went to the hospital to find out the gender of their baby. They were shocked to learn they were having twins and that the girls would likely be arriving early.

“…and especially because I knew they would be here in the NICU and they wouldn't be home, I knew that would be my only way to connect with them,” Wadsworth said of skin-to-skin contact.

Wadsworth comes in every day for skin-to-skin time to help her preemies grow. Jane and Claire were born at 33 weeks, weighing in at nearly 3 and 5 pounds. Both have done well at gaining weight since, and Cara thinks the kangaroo care is a factor.

“I believe that has helped her a lot with the growing process and just because she is so teeny,” Wadsworth said.

Doctor Erick Gerday, a neonatologist at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, said skin-to-skin time is beneficial for all involved.

“Well this is a good connection for mothers and baby, has benefit for both the mom and the babies,” Gerday said.

Gerday said that for well over 10 years, the hospital has been encouraging skin-to-skin care.

He said, for mothers, it can help their emotional connection, improve symptoms from postpartum depression, and help with milk production.

For babies, skin-to-skin contact helps them with brain development, their immune system, their feedings and their temperature regulation.

The recent study says, in addition, babies who received this care had long-lasting social and behavioral effects 20 years down the road. That's something Erick Gerday says doesn’t surprise him.

“And those babies born early, if we can give them that advantage of making those neuro connections in a better fashion, I would expect those benefits to last,” Gerday said.

The hospital encourages kangaroo care for both moms and dads during feeding and whenever they can throughout the day.

For the Wadsworths, Cara says the whole family is benefiting.

“The skin to skin thing has been a huge thing for my husband and I,” she said.

“The important human connection, even when it’s by staff, babies who are talked to, held, sung to: They do better,” Gerday said.

Click here to read more on the study, and click here to learn about the ways you can help families with premature babies.