"It is common knowledge that Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) has positive effects on babies. But we don’t know what happens exactly when a baby and its parent are together, skin-to-skin." That will change soon. Deedee Kommers, ‘KMC Doctor’, will graduate on this topic early next year, after extensive research at the Máxima Medical Center in Veldhoven (The Netherlands) for 4 years. "Ultimately, my promotion goal is to make kangaroo care more common and convince skeptics by proving hard evidence."
What happens exactly during kangaroo care? "When two people touch each other, their bodies try to support each other in order to optimally adapt to the environment, to find the ideal balance," explains Deedee. "For example: if you place a baby with a lower body temperature a on its mother’s warm chest, you would expect the mother's chest to cool down. The opposite is true: the mother's body actively warms up to support her baby to reach its ideal body temperature."
(Bio) logical story
This phenomenon is called co-regulation and it works in many ways and on many levels. How far the effects of this phenomenon go exactly, hasn’t been researched yet. "Two bodies form such a symbiosis, which is quite mysterious!" according to Deedee. "In my research, I focused on measuring 3 parameters during kangaroo care. The results convinced me of the power of kangaroo care. You could measure even more and keep asking questions that you can try to answer, but in my research it has become such a (bio) logical story to me. Nature has a solution to everything."
Stabilizing and calming effect
Many long-term effects of kangaroo care have been researched and they are all positive. Deedee focused solely on processes that occur in the body during kangaroo care and right after. For example, she has looked at heart rate variability. She discovered that it is an easy parameter to measure the positive effects of kangaroo care: as soon as a child is placed on the chest of one of its parents, it has a stabilizing effect on the heart rate. She has also measured the amount of oxytocin in the saliva of premature babies and their mothers while performing skin-to-skin care. Oxytocin is known as the "hug hormone" and has a calming effect.
'A lot of hugging is the right thing to do'
Deedee discovered that it is a little more complicated than 'Hormone A does X'. She can’t share her research results until the publication date, but she does reveal that hormonal effects are always a result of a hormone cocktail, not a single hormone, and that it differs for everyone. "People can respond differently to certain cocktails of hormones." But the concept of kangaroo care still stands strong: "A lot of hugging is the right thing to do! In the end, it is all about co-regulation: skin-to-skin contact is a very natural way to make that happen."
Deedee Kommers will obtain her doctoral degree in January 2018. That is when her research results will be published. Part of Deedee’s research was measuring Hugsy's effect on the heart rate variability and comfort score of premature babies. When her thesis gets published, we will of course share the results!
- Kommers, D., et al. "Suboptimal bonding impairs hormonal, epigenetic and neuronal development in preterm infants, but these impairments can be reversed." Acta Paediatrica 105.7 (2016): 738-751.
- Kommers, Deedee R., et al. "Features of heart rate variability capture regulatory changes during kangaroo care in preterm infants." The Journal of pediatrics 182 (2017): 92-98.
- Kommers, D. R., et al. "Pilot study demonstrates that salivary oxytocin can be measured unobtrusively in preterm infants." Acta Paediatrica 106.1 (2017): 34-42.