The benefits from mother's skin-to-skin contact with a premature infant are visible even 10 years after birth.
At 10 years of age, children who received maternal contact as infants showed more organised seep, better response to stress, more mature functioning of the autonomic nervous system and better cognitive control, said a new study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
Ruth Feldman, professor at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, Israel, studied the impact of different levels of physical contact on prematurely-born infants.
"We found that providing maternal-newborn skin-to-skin contact to premature infants in the neo-natal period improves children's functioning 10 years later in systems shown to be sensitive to early maternal deprivation in animal research," said Feldman.
The researchers compared standard incubator care to a novel intervention called 'Kangaroo Care' (KC) - which was originally developed to manage the risk for hypothermia in prematurely-born babies in Columbia where the mother's body heat kept their babies warm, said the study.
They asked 73 mothers to provide skin-to-skin contact (KC) to their premature infants in the neonatal unit for one hour daily for 14 consecutive days.
For comparison, the researchers also assessed 73 premature infants who received standard incubator care. Children were then followed seven times across the first 10 years of life.
"We found that children in the KC group showed better cognitive skills and executive abilities in repeated testing from six months to 10 years," said the researchers.
"The enhanced level of stimulation provided by this contact appears to positively influence the development of the brain and to deepen the relationship between mother and child," added John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry.
Premature birth is a major health concern worldwide. Twenty-one percent of the babies born in India are premature and the numbers are rising both in rural as well as urban areas, said a recent report titled 'Delivered Too Soon' by the Indian Foundation for Premature Babies (IFPB).