Mark Woods: Where science and instinct meet

As the third birthday of our youngest approaches its impossible not to look back sentimentally on the time he arrived. He made an entrance seven weeks ahead of schedule. After a tense but relatively straightforward birth (if there is such a thing?) our bundle looked perfect but woefully undercooked.

After initial hope that he might be strong enough to avoid the special care unit it become obvious that he hadn’t got round to learning how to suck yet and he needed feeding by tube, as well as help to keep his tiny body warm, and subsequent treatment to keep severe jaundice at bay. Anyone who has spent time in a neonatal intensive care unit will never forget the constant beeping of the monitors or the implacable, committed and skilled staff. Our son, at 4.5lbs, was one of the bigger babies on the ward.

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Research recently carried out in the US reminded me that amongst the complicated kit and clinical excellence of these intensely emotionally charged places sits the very primeval basics of nurturing our young. Just as we were told by the nurses at the time, studies have now confirmed that lullabies are much more than just pleasant baby-friendly melodies, they essentially act as medicine. Not only do they slow down the heart rate of preemies, but they also help them feed and sleep better, which in turn helps them gain weight and increases the speed of their overall recovery.

Kangaroo Care is designed to make up for the acute lack of incubators, and revolves around getting as much skin to skin contact between baby and parent as possible by essentially lovingly stuffing them down your shirt like a pouched joey. The resulting close transfer of heat, smell and the regular and familiar pounding of the heartbeat was found not only to foster everlasting bonds, but to deliver concrete medical benefits too. It all sounds fiendishly simple of course and indeed it is, but somewhere amidst all the undoubted technological and clinical progress we’d made in caring for our sick young, cuddling and singing to them had been sidelined a little and we’re only now rediscovering just how fundamental they are.

Twitter @mark_r_woods