Following 20 years of research, neuroscientist Ruth Feldman reported amazing findings of the benefits of Kangaroo care for newborn babies. It all started with an experiment where the scientist used 73 premature babies, born at 30 weeks. Their average weight was 1,270 grams — slightly more than 2 pounds 12 ounces.
This method of care involves the mothers hugging their babies against their naked skins. During the first phase of the experiment, the mothers and their babies had skin-to-skin contact for one hour each day. For two weeks, the naked babies were taken from the incubators and placed between their mothers’ bare breasts daily.
A control group of preemies with similar weights and medical conditions remained in the incubators. As is typical with premature infants, their mothers had contact with them only through the incubator’s access holes. They spent the same amount of daily, limited contact care for the same two weeks. Seven controlled and scheduled tests took place over the following 10 years, to track the children. The findings, even then, were astounding.
Kangaroo care brings Synchrony
The research focused on social bond creation and its biological basis. Ruth Feldman says the aim was to determine the impact of kangaroo care on creating social attachments. Also, to determine the neurological, epigenetic, genetic, hormonal and biological systems that enable people to develop these bonds. The bonds include the ability to love, to feel empathy and to be loving parents.
Developing bonds not only in familial circles but also in social groups, sports teams and other levels of interaction. The ability to have reciprocal connections with others, and to be able to identify people as friend or foe. The neuroscientist says the bond between newborn babies and mothers immediately after birth can enable us to do all this. The term used for this delicate bond is Synchrony.
Findings after analysis of the controlled-junction tracking already showed significant differences between the experimental group and the control group. Compared to the control group, the subjects who received kangaroo care had better connections with their mothers. In addition, their ability to adjust was better, and their stress levels (cortisol hormone) were lower. Furthermore, their ADD rates were lower during their development over the first 10 years. Ruth Feldman noted that the initial differences between the two groups were insignificant. However, over the years, those differences became amplified.
Results after 20 years
Shortly before both groups turned 20 years old, a separate study asked them to carry out a specific task. The tasks required empathy. Brain imaging occurred while they performed the tasks.
Upon analysis of the imaging, the researchers found significant differences in brain activity. The neuroscientist compared these results with a separate study of brain activity in children who were deprived of maternal contact. Two areas of the brain, the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex in those children showed suppressed activity. In the kangaroo care group’s imaging, those two brain areas showed high levels of activity. By comparison, the control group’s imaging showed an activity rate that was about 50% lower. This group also had lower connectivity between these two brain areas.
Brain development in Kangaroo care group
Moreover, analysis of the brain imaging showed a surprising difference in brain structure. In addition to significant differences in brain function, there were additional structural differences in the two preemie groups. The locations of the structural differences are significant because it occurred in the centers of the brain that associates with motor functioning and emotions.
14 hours of skin-to-skin kangaroo care can have unbelievable benefits in later life. Placing a preemie into an incubator immediately after birth, without any maternal contact, deprives mother and child. Physical contact between mother and child is crucial, even before brain development starts. Ruth Feldman noted that her research did not invent kangaroo care; it only studied the benefits.