Last week, when news broke that a 32-year-old woman in Bunda District, Mara Region, managed to get a child after losing 15 pregnancies, a friend in Mwanza dropped me a text.
He said, “Hi Doc, just saw in the news today that a woman used Kangaroo Mother Care to save the life of her newborn. What’s this Kangaroo care?”
Well, the story goes that the woman, who got married in 2001, lost 15 pregnancies before she could succeed with the 16th one, the baby was born at 6 moths of gestation.
To answer my friend in Mwanza, I had to first tell him that low body temperatures could kill a new born. That’s why babies born prematurely can survive low temperatures if mothers are taught how to apply what we call Kangaroo Mother Care or KMC, in short.
How it works
KMC involves keeping the baby warm through skin-to-skin contact with the mother and also feeding the baby regularly using a schedule.
You see, premature babies cannot demand feeding like other fully developed ones. So, they may die in the process if the mother is unaware of this. That’s why the babies have to be fed regularly.
In addition, the close contact with the mother promotes bonding which increases the likelihood of survival.
The woman in Bunda District was assisted by medical staff to nurture her premature baby and increase its weight from 750 grams to 2.5 kilograms for 3 months. That wasn’t an easy task.
During her latest pregnancy, the cause of pregnancy loss was not addressed, but all the woman needed was a baby. So, all interventions were made to keep the newborn alive—most of the focus being on KMC.
It’s a simple way of caring for newborns but it has significant benefits in terms of reducing complications due to prematurity.
In fact, researchers say that by using KMC, the risk of death among newborns is reduced by 50 per cent.
Other risks for newborns
Premature babies are also highly susceptible to difficulty in breathing and infections which are significant threats to their lives.
Those who survive often have significant health problems such as poor growth, disorders of cognitive development and other long-term health and developmental challenges amongst others.
Usually, mothers and caregivers of preterm babies are also psychologically affected from the pain, stigma and stress that bearing a preterm presents.
Low birth weight is one of the main causes of death in new born children, less than four weeks old.
KMC has been found to be a cost-effective, high-impact way of caring for low birth weight babies who are born prematurely.
It is particularly suitable for resource-poor settings where there are no incubators, and problems with power are common.