If the feeling you get when you snuggle a baby could be bottled and sold, this world would probably be a better place—research basically proves. Between the way those snuggles release heartwarming oxytocin to the benefits they have on babies’ growing brains, let’s all agree there really is no such thing as loving on your baby too much.
Best of all, those perks last long after baby is big enough to run and play on her own: According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, when parents practiced “Kangaroo Mother Care” with their premature babies, the little ones went on to perform better in school, register higher IQs and have preferable behavioral outcomes—even 20 years later.
For the study, researchers followed up with 441 young adults who had participated in a mother-infant bonding trial when they were premature newborns. The researchers found that the young adults of parents who practiced Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) had “reduced school absenteeism and reduced hyperactivity, aggressiveness, externalization, and socio-deviant conduct of young adults.” (Although it’s called “Kangaroo Mother Care,” fathers are also able to do it, which the researchers say creates better paternal bonding.)
Neuroimaging also showed the young adults who benefitted from skin-to-skin time as babies had larger areas of gray matter in their brains, which promotes processing.
The benefits weren’t only seen among the children: The parents who practiced KMC were also more protective and nurturing in comparison to parents from the sample group that didn’t do KMC. The researchers suggest this is because “KMC seems to motivate families to become more child-oriented.”
In the conclusion, the researchers advocate for more opportunities for Kangaroo Mother Care in the NICU:
“This study indicates that KMC had significant, long-lasting social and behavioral protective effects 20 years after the intervention... We hypothesize that the results would be even more significant if KMC was introduced as soon as the infant could tolerate it, even in ICUs. This new knowledge must be used to extend KMC coverage to the 18 million preterm and LBWI born each year, who are candidates for KMC. We firmly believe that this is a powerful, efficient, scientifically based health intervention that can be used in all settings.”
Although the study focused on the development of babies who were born premature, KMC really can be practiced with any newborn by taking time each day to rest together while skin-to-skin—which may very well be the best homework assignment any of us will ever receive.