Skin-to-skin immediately after birth for premature babies. This is what a Swedish study by the Karolinska Institute, published on May 27 in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

According to this research, establishing skin-to-skin contact between mother and infant, even if the baby is not stabilized, would reduce mortality by 25% in babies born with a very low birth weight.

“Kangaroo” method or mother and baby separated?

This study coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO) involved 3,211 children. They were all born with a weight ranging between 1 and 1.8 kg, in low-income countries (Ghana, India, Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania), where the mortality of these babies varies between 20 and 30 %.

These children were divided into two groups:

  • In the first group, a continuous skin-to-skin, or “kangaroo method” was set up between the mother and the newborn, who stayed together in the neonatal unit;
  • In the second group, the mother and baby stayed in separate units and were only brought together for the feeding of the newborn.

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25% fewer deaths

Thus, during the first 72 hours, the infants of the first group benefited from approximately 17 hours of skin-to-skin contact per day, against 1.5 hours in the control group.

Result: mortality during the first 28 days was 12% in the first group, compared to 15.7% in the control group, which corresponds to a reduction of 25%. Babies who had skin-to-skin also had a lower body temperature and less sepsis.

Save 150,000 lives every year

If these results are confirmed on a larger scale, researchers estimate that the “kangaroo method” could save the lives of 150,000 low birth weight newborns worldwide each year.

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Especially since “75% of deaths occur before the infant has been judged stable enough“, notes Dr. Nils Bergman, co-author of the study, in a press release from the Karolinska Institute.

It is therefore an inexpensive method but with significant effects on health, which could save a lot of lives if it is implemented immediately after birth, for countries “of all income levels“the researchers conclude.

Towards new recommendations

These findings call into question the current WHO recommendations, published in 2015, that skin-to-skin should not begin until the baby is sufficiently stable, which can take several days for babies weighing less than 2 years. kg at birth. In light of this new study, WHO is preparing a review of its recommendations.