Breastfeeding, Maternal and Newborn Health
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World Prematurity Day 2016 – The Simplest of Interventions that Saves Lives

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Each year more than 15 million babies are born prematurely, many of whom die within their first few days of life. Today, on World Prematurity Day 2016, we are shedding light on one of the most effective, yet basic interventions: Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC). With exclusive breastfeeding being one of its essential components, this method has the potential to save the lives of babies born prematurely.

This week, in connection with World Prematurity Day, Save the Children announced that representatives of major international and U.S. associations for health professionals will come together and endorse a joint statement recommending the universal use of KMC for all preterm and low birth weight infants.

So, what does Kangaroo Mother Care entail and why do we need it?

KMC is a method of care practiced on newborn children – usually preterm (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy), low birthweight infants – where the mother, father or another carer functions as a natural incubator, providing heat, stimulation and feeding to the baby. The newborn, only wearing a nappy and a baby bonnet, is attached skin-to-skin to the mother’s and other carers’ chests, and is kept upright 24 hours a day.

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The method was developed in 1978 by Edgar Rey Sanabria, a Colombian paediatrician who recognized the problems arising from a shortage of incubators and from separating newborns from their mothers in neonatal care units. Some of the method’s key features are:

  • Early, continuous and prolonged skin-to-skin contact between the mother/father and the baby;
  • Exclusive breastfeeding (ideally);
  • Initiation in hospital, with guided continuation at home;
  • Adequate support and follow-up.

Today, almost 40 years after the development of this powerful, cost-effective and universally available technique, research and implementation have proven that KMC is at least equivalent to conventional care, in terms of safety and thermal protection. And while it was originally intended to premature babies, it is now known that all babies benefit from the effects of KMC.

The WHO estimates that over 75% of babies born prematurely, or babies born with low birthweight, can be saved with cost-effective and feasible care, with KMC being one of the most basic interventions. In low-income countries and regions where the death rate of preterm babies is disproportionately high, and where access to health care and/or medical equipment often is limited, KMC is expected to have the greatest outcome. In these poorly resourced settings, KMC can halve the risk of infection, compared to incubator care.

So, while it seems as if we live in a time where modern medical technology is constantly developing, in certain cases we might have to take a few steps back and truly acknowledge the most basic and gentle, yet effective interventions, such as Kangaroo Mother Care and exclusive breastfeeding that have the potential to save the lives of our tiniest children.

Read more posts on prematurity and World Prematurity Day published by Girls’ Globe bloggers Emma Saloranta and Holly Curtis, and more about breastfeeding here. You can also join the global conversation using #WorldPrematurityDay on social media. 

Featured Photo Credit: Mother and baby, Save the Children (Flickr/CC)

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