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Published: 17 June 2024

A new European study, named NeoDeco, will investigate whether optimised kangaroo care can reduce infection rates in preterm babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).

Every year, around 400,000 babies in Europe are born preterm and require admission to a NICU. While neonatal intensive care greatly improves their chances of survival, it also exposes these vulnerable babies to antibiotic-resistant bacteria from the hospital environment. These bacteria can lead to severe infections, sepsis, and even outbreaks of disease, posing significant risks in the fragile NICU environment.

For premature newborns, the World Health Organization recommends kangaroo care - a simple, safe and low-cost practice that involves prolonged skin-to-skin contact between the baby and their caregiver.

Kangaroo care is thought to help babies acquire more healthy bacteria, which can boost the development of their immune systems.

Despite its benefits, the broader impact of kangaroo care on preventing transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and reducing NICU infections is still underexplored.

“Comprehensive studies on the effects of kangaroo care on neonatal infections caused by difficult to treat bacteria at NICU-wide level are currently lacking. NeoDeco’s objectives extend beyond examining kangaroo care's impact on individual babies. Our focus is to evaluate its potential as an infection prevention and control measure, when applied to most babies in an optimal and sustainable manner by NICUs".

- Dr Julia Bielicki, Chief Investigator at St George’s Centre for Neonatal and Paediatric Infection -

‘Optimised’ kangaroo care is defined as early, repeated and sustained skin-to-skin contact, following international best practice recommendations. While some European NICUs already practice kangaroo care, the extent of its implementation varies widely in terms of how early, how often, and how long it is practiced.

Over the next two years, the study will include 24 NICUs in five European countries – the UK, Greece, Switzerland, Italy and Spain. It is sponsored by Fondazione Penta ETS and conducted as part of the EU-funded NeoIPC project.

Professor Carlo Giaquinto, President of Fondazione Penta ETS, said: “If successful, NeoDeco will not only contribute to validate the health benefits of kangaroo care but could also establish a new standard of care to improve preterm birth outcomes across Europe, ensuring a healthier start for this vulnerable population”.

Learn more about neonatal research at St George’s

Julia Bielicki

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