A research study carried out in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam has confirmed earlier findings which showed that low birthweight (LBW) infants are better off when skin-to-skin with their mother than when placed in an incubator. In this (freely available) study by Chi Luong et al (2016), the researchers randomised 100 babies to either routine (incubator) care or skin-to-skin contact and the results showed that newborn babies fared better when cared for on while lying skin-to-skin on their mum’s chest.
Babies held skin-to-skin had better cardio-respiratory stability, a result which adds to the findings of studies in other primates showing that separating babies from their mothers after birth and placing them in incubators can increase their stress and instability. In the current study, babies who remained in skin-to-skin care also had significantly less need for antibiotics, respiratory support and intravenous fluids during the remainder of their stay in hospital.
Researchers conclude that, although their recommendation may necessitate changes in birthing routines, mothers and low birthweight infants should not be separated.
Chi Luong K, Long Nguyen T, Huynh Thi DH et al (2016). Newly born low birthweight infants stabilise better in skin-to-skin contact than when separated from their mothers: a randomised controlled trial. Acta Paediatrica 105(4): 381-90.
Aim: Routine care of low birthweight (LBW) neonates relies on incubators for stabilisation. An earlier study suggested that skin-to-skin contact achieves better physiological stability in the transition period when compared to incubator care. The aim of this study was to replicate that study with a larger sample.
Methods: A randomised controlled trial with LBW infants (1500–2500 g) randomised at birth, 50 to routine care and 50 to skin-to-skin contact, with stabilisation using the Stability of Cardio-Respiratory system in Preterms (SCRIP) score measured repeatedly over the first six hours of life as the primary outcome.
Results: Newly born infants in skin-to-skin contact showed better transition to extra-uterine life (p < 0.02), with the SCRIP score at 360 minutes in skin-to-skin contact being 5.82 (SD 0.66) and in maternal infant separation 5.24 (SD 0.72), p < 0.0001. In extended skin-to-skin contact care, infants had significantly less need for respiratory support, intravenous fluids and antibiotic use during the remainder of the hospital stay.
Conclusion: Skin-to-skin contact was likely to be an optimal environment for neonates without life-threatening conditions who weighed 1500–2500 g at birth. By preventing instability that requires subsequent medical treatment, it may be life-saving in low-income countries.