Close and constant contact with mother is better for a premature or underweight baby than an incubator, a major study in Ecuador has discovered.

Underweight babies, usually weighing less than 2000g (approx. 4lbs 4ozs), staying in close breast feeding contact with their mothers, suffered fewer serious illnesses during the first six months of life than did those kept in an incubator.

They also had to make less visits to clinics and fewer were readmitted to hospital, so reducing the cost of health care.

These findings are a major endorsement of the Kangaroo mother method (KMM), first developed in Colombia in 1983. A baby whose low birth weight has stabilized is kept in an upright position in skin to skin contact with the mother’s breasts, which provide both warmth and food.

Despite being well received, the method has never been properly scienti fically tested, mainly because earlier sample sizes had not been considered large enough.

The new study, carried out by Nancy Sloan et al at the Population Council in New York, was among 281 babies born at a maternity hopital in Quito, Ecuador with a birthweight of below 2000g and an average period in the womb of just over eight months. Of these, 132 were put in the KMM group, and the remainder given standard care using incubators. Both groups were observed for six months and only seven KMM babies suffered any serious illnesses, such as respiratory problems, pneumonia, septicemia and general infections, against 18 babies in incubators. They also had fewer readmissions to hospital.

In an accompanying editorial, The Lancet inexplicably stated the method has “obvious attractions for developing countries”. If them, why not us? The Lancet, 17 September 1994.

Premature babies with very low birth weight often weighing little more than 2lbs suffered fewer complications if given individual development attention in the neonatal intensive care unit, a Harvard Medical School study has concluded.

!AJAMA, 21 September 1994.

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