Premature babies’ brains develop best when babies are in close contact on a regular basis

Premature babies’ brains develop better if babies are in close contact with their mother or father, as all kinds of senses are processed. These children performed better in language and cognition after a year and a half, compared to children who received usual care. Finnish and American researchers wrote this in a study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Translational Medicine Sciences figured out.

Babies born prematurely have to continue to grow in an incubator, often with all kinds of hoses and wires attached to devices. Their lungs must mature, and they often cannot regulate their temperature and breathe properly. The brain also develops during this period, but this is often less good due to stress. The medical procedures they have to do are stressful, as is the separation from the mother, whose voice and smell are accustomed to the fetus in the womb. As a result, babies born prematurely have a high risk of developmental delays.

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strong touch

Previous studies have already shown the beneficial effect of various forms of communication between parents and premature babies on their development, such as the “pocket”. The baby is exposed to a blanket on the mother’s or father’s bare chest. In the current study, four of these were incorporated into a protocol.

The study included 115 mothers with 150 premature infants. They were born from 26 to 34 weeks – a normal pregnancy lasts 40 weeks.

Intervention made by the authors Family Care Intervention She was taught to mothers by specialized nurses. The goal was to engage all of the baby’s senses: smell, touch, hearing, and sight. When the baby was in the incubator, this was done by exchanging clothes with the mother and baby’s body odor. Also, the mother can touch the baby in the incubator for a long time and vigorously, calmly talk to the baby and make eye contact. The researchers encouraged the mother to express her feelings and emotions. Parents and other family members were also encouraged to treat the child in this way.

When the baby is under pressure, the mother places her arms on the baby’s chest with her hand gently above him, while placing the legs in the fetal position in the cavity of her other hand. She always did this after a medical procedure like a blood draw, but also after changing a baby. When the baby calmed down, she would put her hand firmly on her stomach for a while, or let the baby hold his finger.


Once the child’s medical condition permitted, he was sometimes allowed out of the incubator to snuggle with the mother for at least an hour, or carried and fed, sometimes in a rocking chair. Other sensations, such as taste, temperature, and balance were also addressed. Researchers call this the calming cycle: Both mother and baby came to rest. Parents were also allowed to conduct such sessions with their children. Family members receive weekly information on how to treat mother and child.

Parents of children receiving usual care were not explicitly directed to perform these procedures, but the cyst was sometimes explained.

By the time the babies were after 40 weeks of gestation, the researchers measured brain activity using an electroencephalogram. They were given a small swimming cap with electrodes on their heads while they slept.

In the children who received the sedative treatment, the connections and activity in several major neural networks in the cerebral cortex were different than in the children who received the usual care. The network activity was more similar to that of healthy children born after birth. When the children were 18 months old, the cognition and language development of the children with increased touch were also better than that of the young children who received normal care.

Intense contact between mothers (or fathers) with their premature baby, as shown in this study, is not standard policy in neonatal intensive care, says Nick Konman, MD, a pediatrician and neonatologist at the Erasmus MC Sophia Children’s Hospital in Rotterdam. Even the bag is not done by default. “Parents do, but it often happens too little, too short, even with us.”


Conneman trains coaches and clinicians in developmental care tailored to a child’s individual needs, a method called NIDCAP. “We pay attention to the signals the child is giving and we act accordingly.” This is fundamentally different from the four processes in the standard protocol, as in this study. “It is better than nothing, so putting this into practice would be a good start. But the child and the parents need more.” There is interest in this way of working, but many neonatologists are not yet convinced. “This is important research that prompts people to think about the psychological impact of touch and other sensory perceptions in preterm infants,” Koneman said.

Koneman objects to holding the baby tightly. “This generates tension. You have to first address the baby, then touch him supportively. We don’t do this after a medical procedure, but during it, to reduce the pain and stress as much as possible.”

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