What We Can Learn from Kangaroos

New Study Sheds Light on Newborn Care

Posted Dec 14, 2016

Source: Randi Hutter Epstein

What a nice scientific study to read on my son’s twenty-third birthday. Turns out that cuddling and nursing premature babies instead of just putting them in an incubator and giving them a bottle turns them into grounded, social adults.

            So 23 years ago today, my son was born a month before his due date. Just the night before that, I showed my husband a photo from one of my medical school books and under the caption of an image of a 34-weekish-old unborn baby, it said: at this point the baby is fully formed, it just has no body fat. I’m paraphrasing, but it said something of that ilk.

            A few hours later my water broke (much to our shock) and a few hours after that Jack came out. The book was right. He was skinny. We were living in London at the time. My doctor was really relaxed about pregnancy and birth. No whisking baby Jack away to a nursery, no extra exams. It was just me and Jack in the hospital room to snuggle and nurse. We went home the next day. I’m not sure we were in the hospital 24 hours.

            The researchers in the new study—published in the December issue of Pediatrics—compared mothers of premies who got so-called Kangaroo care, to those who didn’t. Kangaroo care was adopted from Kangaroos who hop around with their little Joeys. For pouchless humans it means skin-to-skin contact, exclusive breastfeeding and leaving the hospital as soon as medically possible. This new study, by doctors in Bogota, Columbia tracked about 200 kids for twenty years, about half had been randomly chosen for the kangaroo category. They found that the Kangaroo kids scored lower on aggression, anti-social behavior, and attention deficit disorder.

            I’ve got to believe that one-on-one time with a newborn plus breastfeeding is a better approach than nurseries and bottles. I’m not completely convinced that the snuggling and breast milk is why my son (or any kid) is grounded, social, and not-aggressive. In any event, I was pleased to see the email of the results in my inbox on his birthday. It seemed like a sort of gift. And, well, if it’s more evidence—even just a little—to push for mothers and babies to be together with fewer medical intrusions, then that’s a good thing.

            But the study made me think of the reverse. Sure, babies benefit from being held closely, but we new mothers benefit too. Not sure if it’s hormonal thing and not sure if a study could prove a statistically significant advance for kangarooing moms, but I’ve got a hunch that the time my premature baby Jack and I spent together did just as much good for me as it did for him. 


Charpak, Nathalie, et. al, "Twenty-year Follow-up of Kangaroo Mother Care Versus Traditional Care," Pediatrics, 139:1, January, 2017