It’s the age old question: Nature vs. Nurture. What shapes a child’s temperament? What creates their personality? Is it something innate within them, perhaps inherited or genetic? Is it the environment that they are reared in and the exposures that they encounter throughout life? Or is it a balance between these things? There are countless studies, articles, and books on this very topic and now there is a new article recently published that looks at the influence of our practices within the first moments after birth and how they can impact the health of children as they grow into adults.
I have been a tenacious advocate of breastfeeding and also of the movement that I am so happy to see hospitals in this area embracing called Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC). Many people may know this practice simply as “skin-to-skin” and if you have had a baby in the past several years, I am hopeful that the facility that you delivered at helped to establish KMC after your delivery. We have known for quite some time that there are numerous benefits in the short term/immediate post-delivery timeframe to performing KMC. Now, however, thanks to a new study, we now know that these benefits extend well into the future and can actually help shape the temperament of a child.
Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) has 3 basic components: early, continuous, and prolonged skin-to-skin contact between baby and mom (that is continued even after discharge from the hospital); exclusive breastfeeding when possible; and timely discharge from the hospital. We know that by simply holding baby in continuous contact with mom’s skin immediately after delivery, that baby is able to regulate its body temperature, breathing rate, heart rate, and blood sugar better than if removed from mom and taken to an incubator or bassinet. We also know that KMC helps to facilitate breastfeeding and foster bonding between mom and baby. We know that the skin-to-skin contact helps babies to organize themselves in their states of alertness (sounds fancy, I know, but this basically means they are able to transition from deep sleep, to light sleep, to alert in a more organized fashion, rather than going from zero to sixty in 2.2 seconds!). All of these things that we KNOW are science-based truths, which is why so many facilities are moving towards an established 60 minutes of skin-to-skin time post-delivery. What has been unclear up until this time however, is if the effects/benefits of KMC extend past the immediate 1 year following birth. According to a recent article, it seems as though the benefits do in fact extend well into the future for these babies. The study published in the AAP’s journal Pediatrics, re-enrolled premature and low-birth weight participants that engaged in KMC from the years 1993-1996. They compared those individuals from the KMC group with those in the control group on health status and neurologic, cognitive, and social functioning with the use of neuroimaging, neurophysiological, and behavioral tests. The results revealed that the babies in the KMC group exhibited less aggressive behavior, were less impulsive and hyperactive, and they exhibited less antisocial behavior. While this particular study examined babies who were born prematurely and/or of low birth weight, I am hoping that with this new information, we might start to extend the recommendation to perform KMC to ALL babies regardless of age at birth or weight at birth. Clearly, there is a positive, long-lasting, and significant impact of this safe, easy, and low cost practice and, thus, it should be emphasized for all babies.
*** Sara DePierre sees patients at the Pediatric Alliance — Jefferson Hills office. You can read more from Sara on The PediaBlog here.