It is common practice to incubate a baby that has been born prematurely, i.e. before 37 weeks of pregnancy are over (a normal, full-term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks) (1). Incubation seems the right thing to do as well since babies are quite delicate at this time and prone to infections, as they are not yet fully developed. In such a scenario, an incubator offers a safe and germ-free sanctuary for the child that can help them thrive and develop fully. However, new research has surfaced that proves that incubators might not be needed after all.
Conducted by a Swedish professor, Uwe Ewald, this research has claimed that what premature babies need are not incubators but skin-to-skin contact. His research was published on Forældre og Fødsel’s Facebook post and has been translated into English by NINO Birth for everyone to understand.
According to the post, revolutionary practices have been taking place in neonatal care in Uppsala, Sweden, where the emphasis has been laid more on skin-to-skin contact to help premature babies develop fully rather than putting them in the incubator. Parents whose babies are born as light as 700 gms are encouraged to hold their babies close to their chest.
As you can see from the cover picture of this post, an unnamed Swedish father is seen holding his premature twins along with his son, close to their chest. While this seems like a touching family moment, there’s science behind the holding of the twins on a hospital bed in such a manner.
Professor Uwe Ewald explained this revolutionary method of ‘human incubators’ while on a visit to the Hvidovre Hospital in Denmark, where he described that skin-to-skin contact with the parents to as much of an extent possible, is widely encouraged for premature babies. Ewald explains that the chest of the parents’ regulates the optimum temperature for the healthy survival of preemies and in fact, it regulates temperature better than an incubator does (2).
He also says that such close contact with the parents helps the baby to breathe better, as a result of which the child becomes calmer and eventually gains weight faster than they would in an incubator. He further goes on to state that the bacteria flora of the parents’, as compared to the hospital bacteria, help bring about a significant reduction in the chances of infections in preemies.
The Neonatal Department of the Hvidovre Hospital seems to be in agreement with Uwe Ewald’s research. The department has expressed that they have had a positive experience with skin-to-skin contact for preemies so far and are even conducting their own research to delve deeper into the matter.
This revolutionary practice of ditching the incubator and opting for the parents’ chest to help preemies survive is also known as ‘kangaroo care’ (3). The logic behind this terminology lies in the way the kangaroos keep their joeys in their pouch at all times, thereby maintaining constant skin to skin contact, and offering the joey a safe environment to grow.
In fact, physical touch is very important for babies. The lack of the right physical touch that embodies love and care can even lead to death in babies, and that too when they live in sterile environments and adequately meet all of their nutritional needs (4).
Besides the many benefits that skin-to-skin contact or kangaroo care brings for babies, one thing’s for sure that if it becomes popular, parents with premature babies will be able to save on their hospital bills considerably!
As for the father and the son and the twins in the picture, we can only hope that they turned out just fine and are enjoying a healthy and happy life.