Kangaroo care a benefit for babies

Trevlynn Moses from Mitchells Plain providing kangaroo mother care to her premature twin boys at Groote Schuur Hospitals Neonatal Unit.

The International Kangaroo Mother Care Awareness Day is celebrated on May 15 every year by parents, communities, organisations and healthcare institutions that appreciate and acknowledge the benefits of kangaroo mother care (KMC).

Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said her department has adopted and implemented the KMC policy and programme in healthcare facilities to decrease the morbidity and mortality of newborn infants.

“We are continuously striving to create awareness and improve the standard of KMC for newborn care at all the levels of healthcare, in all settings, within the Western Cape and the rest of South Africa,” she said.

KMC refers to the practice of providing continuous skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby, exclusive breast milk feeding, and early discharge from hospital.

KMC is an especially important intervention for babies that are born prematurely.

As part of the Western Cape Government Health Mother Baby Friendly initiative policy, all babies must be placed in the skin to skin position immediately after birth and should remain in that position for at least an hour.

This only applies to healthy babies.

Fathers are not excluded from this practice, and during visiting hours, fathers are encouraged to practice skin to skin care as well.

Skin to skin care has many benefits for both mother and baby.

Besides being good for bonding, it also provides warmth to the baby, regulates the baby’s heartbeat, and enhances lactation.

Babies have direct access to the breast and can feed at any time.

Trevlynn Moses, 31, from Tafelsig, was expecting to meet her newborns on May 16, but unbeknownst to her, she went into early labour and delivered her twin boys on April 2 at the Mitchell’s Plain Maternity Obstetric Unit (MOU) with birth weights of 1600g and 1640g.

Due to the babies low birth weight, sheand her babies were transferred to Groote Schuur Hospital’s Neonatal Unit, where Kangaroo Mother Care was practised to improve her babies’ health and increase their weight.

“I could definitely see the benefits of KMC with my babies, because their weight improved within the first three days, they were breastfeeding nicely, and I have really developed a strong bond with them,” said Ms Moses.

“To KMC my babies took minimal effort. My babies were dressed in just their nappies with their heads covered with a cap and placed in an upright position against my bare chest, and we were covered with a blanket for warmth,” said Trevlynn.

All Western Cape Health facilities have implemented the KMC policy in their facilities.

Mowbray Maternity Hospital, a specialist maternity hospital in the Cape Metropole consistently encourages and practices KMC and has achieved a 90 percent KMC success rate in the metro.

Post discharge, these mothers and babies are seen at the various primary health care maternity units or clinics where KMC is re-enforced.

Sister Karlien La Grange, assistant manager nursing at Mowbray Maternity Hospital, said KMC is an effective way to help meet a premature baby’s basic needs for warmth, nutrition, stimulation, and protection from infection.

“Parents of low birth weight, less than 2.5kg, or preterm babies born before 37 weeks gestation are encouraged to use KMC which involves continuous skin-to-skin contact with the baby for at least 20 hours every day and exclusive breastfeeding or cup-feeding,” she said.

Mowbray Maternity delivers approximately 900 babies amonth of which 15.2 % are low birth weight, which translates to 130 low birth weight babies a month.

“Our babies are discharged once the breastfeeding goes well and the birth weight has improved to 1.75kg, and there is a good support structure at home for the mother and child,” she said.

“Babies who receive KMC are less stressed, you hardly hear the baby cry, better bonding takes place between the baby and mother or family member, it improves latching and breastfeeding, and the baby’s temperature regulation is optimised due to skin-to-skin contact,” said Sister La Grange.

Despite its potential to save thousands of babies every year, KMC has not been widely used in high-income or low-income settings.

Dr Mbombo said: “We must raise awareness about the importance of this intervention. With increasing costs and rationalisation in all sectors of health care in South Africa, it has become necessary to find and implement efficient cost-effective ways of caring for our patients. KMC has been shown to be a safe, effective and affordable method of caring for low birth weight infants in many contexts around the world, in our own country and in our own province.”

For babies who are receiving KMC treatment, the increased rate of growth and fewer infections translate into significant economic benefits to the health service in terms of shorter hospital stay and reduced bed occupancy. The cost of care is further reduced in that the parents, particularly the mother, are physically involved in caring, thereby reducing the nursing workload.

Monique Johnstone is a communications officer for the Western Cape Department of Health.