The age-old practice of mothers holding their naked newborns to their skin and nursing them appears to benefit children—specifically those who were born premature or small—two decades later. Researchers at the Kangaroo Foundation in Bogota, Colombia, revisited a group of preemies who were studied in the mid-1990s and found that 228 young adults who'd received so-called kangaroo care as infants fared better in pretty much every way measured compared to 213 young adults who hadn't had the same level of physical closeness, reports Reuters Health. While the study, published in Pediatrics, builds on a wealth of previous research showing the benefits of physical contact at birth, the researchers say these findings show "a significant, long lasting social and behavioral protective effect 20 years [later]," the lead author says.
Those held skin-to-skin at birth were more likely to be breastfed and much less likely to die young. By 20, they were less aggressive, hyperactive, and anti-social. Researchers note their study did not prove causation: It's still unclear, for instance, whether the care itself has a biological effect on children's brains or whether those children are snuggling with parents who are, well, more nurturing. NBC News also reports that kangaroo care doesn't beget "miracles": Children with cerebral palsy, for instance, saw no change in their symptoms. But considering about one in 12 babies born in the US are preemie or weigh less than 5.5 pounds at birth, according to the March of Dimes, kangaroo care may be beneficial for millions. (This dying baby is now 5 after his parents cuddled him.)