London - Premature babies make a much better recovery if their parents help with hospital care, says new research.
A study of 1 800 infants born early found that they put on weight more quickly if a parent was involved in chores like taking temperatures and giving medicine.
The parents’ own health also improved and new mums were more likely to make a success of breastfeeding.
The findings could transform the way sick children are cared for, with parents seen as integral to a good recovery.
For the study, parents at 26 neonatal units in Canada, New Zealand and Australia spent six hours a day, five days a week with their babies. They got involved in washing, feeding, dressing, giving medication and taking temperatures. Their babies put on 26.7g a day against 24.8g for those cared for by just nurses.
Later, 70 percent of moms managed to breastfeed six times a day, against 63 percent in the other group.
Parents also had lower levels of stress and anxiety, according to the report published in the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health journal.
Dr Karel O’Brien, a neonatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said: "Parents are too often perceived as visitors. Our findings challenge this approach ... How care is provided to the family, not just the infant, has a positive effect on the wellbeing of both infant and family."