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The first month of life is exceedingly important for the survival of infants. Almost 4 million newborns worldwide die in the first month of life, accounting for 41% of all under-five deaths globally. Many premature or low birth weight babies cannot maintain homeostasis and their core body temperature. In low resource settings incubators are often costly or not available making the chances of survival past one month very slim. Many of these deaths can be prevented with simple solutions such as Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), which is the skin-to-skin contact between mother and child to ensure the warmth and well being of the newborn.

Research in the medical field indicates that there are a multitude of benefits from the implementation of kangaroo care. Besides regulating an infant’s core temperature, it has been shown that skin-to-skin:

  • Synchronizes cortisol levels so that a mother and infant are calm and alert together.
  • Increases oxytocin and reduces stress hormones in the infants.
  • Reduces infant perception, response and recovery from procedural pain associated with punctures, injections, and other minor procedures when compared to pharmaceutical or sucrose pain relief.
  • Allows longer and calmer rest periods for infants more in tune with their sleep wake cycle than a traditional incubator, thus increasing healthy brain development.

Violet Manjanja, a scholar in KMC and lecturer at Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN) said, “the parent’s heartbeat was critical in stimulating the baby’s because ‘low birth weight babies run a risk of skipping heartbeats.’” KMC places the infant in a prone position on the parent’s chest with extremities flexed into a “frog like” position; this provides a better external environment for motor skill development compared with infants who did not receive KMC.

Men can also partake in this style of caring, it is not limited solely to the mothers. In Malawi, husbands are urged to learn more about and participate in providing KMC for their low birth weight newborns. Since the infant needs additional body heat for 24 hours, it is not a task feasible for the mother alone. Manjanja added, “the father’s body heat and heartbeat was equally as life saving as that of the mother.” Kangaroo Mother Care should be included in newborn management plans, given the additional benefits that increase the health and well-being of both the parent and infant. KMC is considered one of the best practices in newborn health care for low resource settings, and should be continuously promoted regardless of the setting.

References:
Bergh, A-M. 2011. “Kangaroo mother care to reduce morbidity and mortality in low-birth-weight infants.” The WHO Reproductive Health Library; Geneva: World Health Organization. Accessed December 21, 2011 at http:// apps.who.int/rhl/newborn/cd002771_bergham_com/ en/index. html.
Modi, N., & Glover, V. (1998). Non-pharmacological reduction of hypercortisolaemia in preterm infants. Infant Behavior and Development, 21, 86-86. doi:10.1016/S0163-6383(98)91301-7
Ludington-Hoe, S. M. (2013). Kangaroo care as a neonatal therapy. Newborn and Infant Nursing Reviews, 13(2), 73. doi:10.1053/j.nainr.2013.03.004