Children as old as 10 years of age experience benefits from healthy touch received as an infant, new research suggests.

“At 10 years of age, children who received maternal contact as infants showed more organized sleep, better neuroendocrine response to stress, more mature functioning of the autonomic nervous system, and better cognitive control,” according to a press release.

“In this decade-long study, we show for the first time that providing maternal-newborn skin-to-skin contact to premature infants in the neonatal period improves children’s functioning 10 years later in systems shown to be sensitive to early maternal deprivation in animal research,” said Ruth Feldman, Ph.D., lead investigator and a professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

“The researchers compared standard incubator care to an intervention called Kangaroo Care, which was developed to manage the risk for hypothermia in prematurely born babies in Columbia, where they struggled with a lack of access to incubators,” the press release noted. “This method, in essence, uses the mother’s body heat to keep their babies warm.”

The researchers asked 73 mothers to provide skin-to-skin contact to their premature infants in the neonatal unit for one hour daily for 14 consecutive days. For comparison, the researchers also assessed 73 premature infants who received standard incubator care. Children were then followed seven times across the first 10 years of life.

They found that during the first 6 months of their babies’ lives, mothers in the Kangaroo Care group were more sensitive and expressed more maternal behavior toward their infants. Children in the Kangaroo Care group showed better cognitive skills and executive abilities in repeated testing from 6 months to 10 years.

The research will be published in Biological Psychiatry.