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Going by Kangaroo Mother Care

BY: Dr Frank Owusu-Sekyere

Thursday, November 17, 2022, was celebrated as World Prematurity Day, a day set aside each year to celebrate the over 15 million gallant babies born prematurely.

The theme for this year; “A parent’s embrace: a powerful therapy." is appropriate because of the enormous benefits of Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), which underscores this theme. I dedicate this week’s column to dilate on the KMC.

Kangaroo mother care is a care method for preterm babies, which involves infants being carried, usually by the mother, with skin-to-skin contact. It is done by holding the baby against the bare chest using a blanket or a specially designed cloth. It is designed to hold the baby in a “pouch” as Kangaroos do to their babies; hence, the name.

The importance of skin-to-skin contact has been more widely known since the 1970s when it was found that preterm had a better chance of survival when they spent a large portion of the day between their mum’s breasts. The practice can be done by dads as well with the same benefits.

It was first developed in Colombia as an alternative to inadequate and insufficient incubator care for preterm babies deemed stable after overcoming their initial problems, requiring only feeding to grow. It is beneficial irrespective of setting, weight, gestational age and clinical conditions.

There are many benefits of skin-to-skin contact for preterm and their parents. These include the fact that KMC:
• Helps regulate the baby’s heart rate, breathing and body temperature. Mum’s breasts can change in temperature to suit the baby's needs. If the baby is a little warm, the breasts become cooler to help cool the baby down and vice versa. The close contact also automatically teaches the baby to regulate his heart rate and breathing, fashioning it after mum’s or dad’s.
• Improves oxygen circulation to the preterm due to deeper, more regulated breathing that increases the rate of oxygen delivery to the baby’s organs and tissues. This promotes optimum growth and development of the baby’s organs and facilitates weight gain.
• Helps calm the baby. Preterm recognise the heartbeat and voice of their mums from their time in the womb. That’s why being pressed against mum’s chest helps them feel more secure.
• Promotes better sleep. Preterm who experience plenty of KMC has high-quality, deep sleep, allowing them to grow, develop and gain weight faster.
• Promotes brain development. More restful sleep, less stress and better oxygen circulation to the preterm organs and body tissue all contribute to healthy brain development.
• Boosts immune system. Contact with the skin helps expose the baby to healthy bacteria on parental skin, boosting their immune system.
• Helps the baby put on weight. As the preemie begins to rely on the parent for temperature regulation, fewer calories are expended by the preterm to maintain temperature and, therefore, more calories are available for weight gain. Skin-to-skin contact also promotes physical development leading to weight gain.
• Promotes less crying. As the baby rests better and stays calmer for longer, they feel less distressed.
• Helps to bond. Through KMC, preterm hear mum or dad’s breathing, smell their parent’s skin, and facilitate parent-baby bonding.
• Helps promote breastfeeding. Babies who are held close to mum’s breasts are more likely to show an inclination for breastfeeding. This closeness can even help improve mum's breast milk production.

Overall, this kind of care can help reduce some of the common problems faced by preterm, as well as help to improve their chances of an earlier discharge from the hospital.
Parents also benefit from KMC; it helps to allay their anxiety by making them feel more closely bonded with their baby.

It also gives them confidence that they are doing everything they can to help their little ones get stronger. The incidence of post-partum depression is lower in mothers who practice KMC.
So do we have any reason not to offer this obviously beneficial therapeutic practice to our preterm? I guess not anymore.

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A member of Paediatric Society of Ghana.