Premature and low birth weight infants generally require extra care to avoid illness and death from secondary, preventable complications such as hypothermia and infection.
This is a particular problem in developing countries, where incubators and similar technologies are often scarce, over-crowded or unreliable, as well as costly.
Kangaroo mother care, a method of caring for preterm infants that keeps the tiny babies warm and nourished through breastfeeding and continuous skin-to-skin contact, can leave lasting positive impact and make them healthier and wealthier later in life, suggested a new research.
They are more likely to have survived into their 20s and they have bigger brains, showed the findings published in the journal Pediatrics
"This study indicates that Kangaroo mother care has significant, long-lasting social and behavioral protective effects 20 years after the intervention," said lead researcher Nathalie Charpak of the Kangaroo Foundation in Bogota, Colombia.
Kangaroo mother care involves continuous skin-to-skin contact between caregiver and infant, with the baby nestled in a "kangaroo" position on the caregiver's chest as soon as possible after birth.
The technique is accompanied by exclusive breastfeeding.
A premature infant is born somewhere in the world every two seconds, said Peter Singer, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada, a programme funded by Government of Canada.
"This study shows that Kangaroo mother care gives premature and low birth weight babies a better chance of thriving. Kangaroo mother care saves brains and makes premature and low birth weight babies healthier and wealthier," Singer said.
The research compared 18 to 20 year olds who, as premature and low birth weight infants, had been randomized at birth to receive either Kangaroo mother care or traditional incubator care until they could maintain their own body temperature.
The researchers found that Kangaroo mother care can make all the difference in the world for premature and low birth weight infants and help them thrive.