Kangaroo Mother Care

I’m so in love with this practice that I feel I need to devote an entry to it asap. The background is that of the 4 million babies that die every year in their first month of life, a majority are premature and have a low birth weight. This means that they have less fat on their body and have trouble keeping warm; they can sometimes die of hypothermia (low body temperature) even in places like Malawi that you don’t think of as being that cool. Even healthy babies are born not being able to regulate their own body temperature! So all babies need to be kept dry and warm, and the higher-risk premature ones need extra help. In the past, the “doctor’s orders” for premature babies was always to put them in an incubator. That’s feasible in places like the US, but in places with few clinics, and a shortage of medical staff, supplies and electricity in those clinics, very few babies would be able to benefit from this.

So then along comes Kangaroo Mother Care. In a kangaroo, the joey is held in its mother’s pouch close to her skin and benefits from her body heat. Same principle applies with human babies! This practice is incredibly simple: a mom places her baby (who’s just wearing a diaper) against her chest, wraps a cloth around it to hold it in place, and…that’s basically it! From such a simple technique that literally requires no fancy equipment, the baby’s temperature is regulated, reducing the risk of hypothermia, its chances of infection go down (another big cause of newborn death), it’s more likely to be breastfed frequently because it’s already with the mother (which improves the baby’s chances of survival), and there’s more mother-infant bonding than if the baby were alone in an incubator.

A mom doing kangaroo mother care

This practice is being promoted in facilities in Malawi and elsewhere (and there are some staff here who’s whole job is to train nurses in it!). It isn’t just for developing country settings: the daughters of the woman I live with were born three months premature, very very small, and she did this practice in a hospital outside of Ithaca! So just wanted to mention it because I think it’s pretty darn neat.  🙂

Here’s a little 4-minute video about KMC:



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