Kangaroo Care and the infant brain

April 7, 2020

Results of a small study show that Kangaroo Care may positively affect infant neurophysiological development, particularly in the left front area of the brain.

Skin-to-skin, chest-to-chest contact between mother and child after birth-known as Kangaroo Care (KC)-is believed to impact neurodevelopment in early infancy. Results of a small study show that KC may positively affect infant neurophysiological development, particularly in the left front area of the brain.

Published in Infant Behavior and Development, the findings are from a randomized controlled trial of 30 mother/infant dyads. The intent was to examine the impact of KC as a beneficial caretaking experience on resting electroencephalogram (EEG) power/asymmetry and coherence in infants as well can on affiliative and stress hormones. The authors hypothesized that KC would be associated with greater relative left frontal asymmetry and increased coherence between brain regions and that it would positive influence tonic oxytocin levels in mothers as well as their full-term infants. 

Methods
Randomization in the study was to a KC wrap or to use of infant feeding pillows. The mothers in the KC group were taught proper KC procedures by a certified trainer and asked to use KC, skin-to-skin, chest-to-chest contact with their infants for 1 hour daily for a period of 6 weeks and to record frequency of KC use in a journal. The mothers in the control group were given the pillows and asked to record infant feedings in a journal for 6 weeks. 

At 3 months, a stretch Lycra cap was used to measure EEG activity during a 5-minute quiet-alert state. Mid-frontal (F3 and F4), lateral frontal (F7 and F8), central (C3 and C4), parietal (P3 and P4) and occipital (O1 and O2) sites were referenced to the vertex (Cz). Oxytocin was measured by collecting maternal (prenatal and 3-month assessments) and infant urine (neonatal and 3-month visits) over 4 consecutive days. 

Findings
Overall, the analyses showed that infants whose mothers had used KC had left frontal EEG asymmetry and significant effects for left frontal but not right hemisphere EEG coherence pairs compared to the control group. In the mothers and infants, exposure to KC produced moderate to large effects on increasing oxytocin levels at 3 months postpartum. KC also yielded moderate effects on decreasing cortisol reactivity in infants after exposure to an acute stressor.

Conclusions
The authors concluded that their study, “provides evidence that the physiology of mothers and their full-term infants is influenced by obtaining KC training and utilizing it during the postpartum period.” Further, they “suggest that full-term infants and their mothers may benefit from the experience of extended KC use. In particular the left frontal area of the brain appears to be stimulated and dyads show increased oxytocin along with decreases in stress reactivity, suggesting regulatory abilities are prompted by experiences with positive caregiving in infancy.”