The 'kangaroo' cuddle technique that has 20 years of benefits for premature babies.

A technique known as Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) can help premature babies thrive for 20 years, according to a new study.

Young adults were found to benefit from continuous skin-to-skin contact – where the parent or carer nestles a baby in “kangaroo” position on the adult’s chest, as soon as possible after birth.

Preterm and low birth weight babies that were cared for in this way went on to be better behaved adults with larger brains, higher pay checks and more protective and nurturing families.

The idea is that a trained KMC parent or caregiver becomes a child’s incubator and a main source of food and stimulation until the baby can maintain their own body temperature.

The mother is encouraged to return home from hospital with the baby as soon as they can and the pair are rigorously monitored for a year.

“This study indicates that Kangaroo Mother Care has significant, long-lasting social and behavioural protective effects 20 years after the intervention,” said lead researcher Dr Nathalie Charpa, from The Kangaroo Foundation.

The findings could help those with unrestricted access to health care. Image via iStock.

The study compared 18 to 20-year-olds who had received treatment in a traditional incubator with babies that were given the kangaroo care.

“The findings of our 20-year KMC study should inform the modalities of medical, psychological and social postnatal interventions such as Kangaroo Mother Care so that we can continue to reduce the disorders caused by prematurity and low birth weight," Dr Charpa said.

Researchers believe the technique is a "powerful" intervention that can be used in all settings, including those with unrestricted access to health care.

“This study demonstrates that Kangaroo Mother Care can make all the difference in the world for premature and low birth weight infants,” said Dr Karlee Silver, from Grand Challenges Canada - which supported the study.

“Kangaroo Mother Care is a cost-effective, modern method of care that can and should be applied in every country.”

The findings have been published in the journal Pediatrics.