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South Africa pushes mothers to serve as human incubators for preterm babies.

posted 23 May 2011, 07:13 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 23 May 2011, 07:16 ]

More South African mothers are being encouraged to cuddle their babies using the Kangaroo Mother Care method after research shows the practice reduces newborn mortality by 51 percent.

Hospitals in South Africa are encouraging mothers to cuddle their newborn babies and hold them against their bare skin in an effort improve the survival of very low birth weight babies.

The method known as Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) benefits mainly preterm babies and is said to help maintain body temperature and regulate breathing.

KMC also improves the bond between mother and baby and is thought to be one of the most effective ways of reducing newborn deaths in the world today.

Last year, researchers from Save the Children reported a 51 percent reduction in newborn mortality when stabilized babies weighing less than 2,000 grammes received body warmth and breast milk.

KMC was introduced to South Africa in 1995 and mothers admitted at the Somerset Hospital in Cape Town are now being encouraged to practise the low cost thermal method right from the start.

"Kangaroo mother care is the physical contact between a mother and a baby. It should start immediately after birth with all well babies and all stable premature babies. It should continue at home once the mother and the baby is discharged from the hospital," said Antonia Albertyn, a nurse at Somerset Hospital's neonatal unit.

Kangaroo Mother Care is said to have the greatest impact in the first week of a premature baby's life, when deaths are likely to occur.

The programme was first developed in Columbia and has now been adopted by many countries in Latin American, Asia and Africa.

The effect of the program is expected be greater in developing countries.

The practice also helps increase mother's breast milk.

"Kangaroo mother care is different, like, your baby is closer to you and he is growing fast, you see, unlike the incubator because the incubator is just there but you as a mother, you're bonding with your child, yes," said an unidentified mother at the hospital.

Every year at least 3.6 million newborns die worldwide - 10,000 every day. Three out of every four newborn deaths occur in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa where there is a critical shortage of skilled health workers and equipment yet most of these newborn deaths are preventable.

"Normally with the premature babies they have respiratory problems but with kangaroo mother care, the respiration improves and the babies sometimes in the past they had apneic episodes and periodic breathing but with kangaroo mother care, those episodes are far less than when the baby was in an incubator," said Albertyn.

Kangaroo Mother Care also halves the risk of infection compared to incubator care, according to Save the Children.

South Africa's department of health has already made it a policy that every hospital with a maternity wing should adopt Kangaroo Mother Care in its program.