By: Mariko Rasmussen, Communications Specialist at Women Deliver
Health of a newborn is closely linked to the health of the mother and the care she receives in pregnancy and childbirth. Sadly, 3.7 million newborn infants die within the first four weeks after birth, with nearly one million pre-term babies dying in their first month of life every year in developing countries. Up to two-thirds of these deaths can be prevented through existing effective interventions delivered during pregnancy, childbirth and in the first hours, days and week after birth.
One such intervention is a very simple and low cost solution that is reducing the number of pre-term babies who die due to low birth weight. Premature babies are highly susceptible to infection and hypothermia, and in the developed world, are placed in incubators to help ensure their chance of survival. However, in the developing world, incubators are not readily available or adequately cleaned. Often, the purchase of the equipment, maintenance, and repairs are too costly or the power supply cannot support the technology to functionally operate.
But, there is a solution which is much less costly. Kangaroo Mother Care, a program supported by USAID and Save the Children, teaches mothers to strap their newborns to their bare chest, creating a human incubator. This simple method requires only a piece of cloth to increase the body temperatures of their newborns. The program originated in Bogota, Columbia in response to a shortage of incubators and caregivers. As the program gained attention for its success, implementation became widespread, now saving lives across the globe, including in Malawi. In 2003, the World Health Organization formally recognized Kangaroo Mother Care as an effective method of care of preterm infants.
This process helps newborn babies with low birth weight gain weight through constant skin-to-skin contact with the mother and access to breastfeeding. It also encourages bonding between mother and infant, helping with their emotional and psychological well-being. Key features of the program are:
- early, continuous and prolonged skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the baby;
- exclusive breastfeeding (ideally);
- it is initiated in hospital and can be continued at home;
- small babies can be discharged early;
- mothers at home require adequate support and follow-up;
- it is a gentle, effective method that avoids the agitation routinely experienced in a busy ward
with preterm infants.