Skin-to-skin contact, also known as "kangaroo care", which involves cradling a baby on a mother's bare chest, is not new. In fact, it was developed to aid the survival of newborn babies in far-flung areas, where an incubator is not available. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also been promoting the practice because of the numerous benefits both babies and mothers can get from it.
For starters, skin-to-skin contact is proven to help save lives -- not just of healthy newborns, but particularly the lives of premature infants. So when this photo of a pair of newborn twins having skin-to-skin contact with their father and big brother was shared by Africa-based non-profit organization NINO birth on its Facebook page, the overwhelming response has been nothing but positive. Indeed, a photo speaks a thousand words.
The photo originally originally appeared on the Facebook page of a Danish non-government organization Forældre og Fødsel ("Parents and Birth") last year. In total, the photo has garnered more than 41,000 reactions and has been shared more than 30,000 times.
In Sweden, preemie babies -- even tiny newborns who weigh just 700 grams -- are taken out of their incubator to allow them time to have skin-to-skin contact with their parents. It's a practice introduced by Swedish professor Uwe Ewald in Hvidovre, a hospital in Denmark. As it turns out, kangaroo care is not restricted to a mother, but can also be done by a father, and even a big brother or sister.
Ewald’s research points out that kangaroo care works even better than an incubator. "Skin-to-skin contact helps the baby to breathe better. The child becomes [calmer] and gains weight faster," he states. The baby's regulated breathing, in turn, soothes and comforts him and helps reduce stress. In addition, "Research shows that parents' bacterial flora, as compared with hospital bacteria, reduces the risk of serious infections in these delicate children," helping pave the way for increased health progress or faster recovery.
The National Health Institute in the U.K. adds that the benefits of kangaroo care also includes regulating the baby's temperature that helps keep them nice and warm, mimicking the womb atmosphere. It also encourages feeding, as skin-to-skin contact stimulates a baby's urge to feed, whether it's breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, or even cup-feeding.
Aside from the benefits of skin-to-skin contact mentioned above, mom Anne Uth, who took the heartwarming photo, says that the practice had fostered bonding in their family. "The close physical contact [among] the three siblings has meant that big brother Valdemar [has] a very close relationship with the twins. Many children feel neglected when they have younger siblings, but this has not been [the case] for Valdemar. He has a very close relationship with Rebekah and Marius. He has always been very caring," she told the Swedish website Underholdning.tv2.dk.
Anne took the photo of husband Henry Graham and son Valdemar after she gave birth to twins Rebekah and Marius in 2008. The twins were born nine weeks premature and weighed only about 1,700 grams (less than 4 pounds). In the photo below, they are trying to re-enact their now-viral photo seven years after.
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In the Philippines, the WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had started in 2014 the First Embrace campaign, in which skin-to-skin contact is made part of the Early Essential Newborn Care (EENC). The campaign emphasizes that the first step to newborn health is sustained skin-to-skin-contact shortly after giving birth.
Aside from the crucial benefits babies get from kangaroo care, a study has shown that skin-to-skin contact also helps ease new moms' anxiety, lowers their stress level, and helps facilitate bonding.