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Providing “Kangaroo care” to save newborns’ lives

Kangaroo care clinic sign.

This way to lifesaving care!

Visit this clinic in Zimbabwe and you might stumble on a quiet sanctuary for mothers and newborns. Its name might sound light-hearted, but Kangaroo care is anything but: this important health practice is saving the lives of premature infants.

Mothers lay with their infants in the Kangaroo care unit.

Mothers enjoy one another’s company, in the relaxing and nurturing environment of this Kangaroo care unit in a Zimbabwe clinic.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), preterm birth is the world’s leading cause of newborn mortality, and about 20 million low-birth-weight infants are born each year – over 95% of them in developing countries (1). And yet, one simple practice – coined “Kangaroo care” – could save an estimated 450,000 preterm newborns a year.

Taking inspiration from nature for profound effects

Kangaroo care is a technique whereby a premature infant (weighing less than 2 kg and without serious health problems) is held against a mother’s chest using a cloth wrap. This skin-to skin contact is maintained for extended periods of time, both day and night, along with frequent breastfeeding as the infant’s exclusive nutritional source.

Kangaroo care can help stimulate growth and development, prevent infection and potentially even promote mother-baby bonding, simply by meeting a premature baby’s needs for warmth and safety. Most importantly, multiple hospital-based studies have proven that Kangaroo care can reduce mortality rates.

 A mother holds her premature infant to her chest.

A mother holds her sleeping baby against her chest in the Kangaroo Care unit of this Zimbabwe clinic.

At Plan, we are committed to reducing preventable deaths by helping improve Maternal Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) in the countries that need it the most. In Zimbabwe, there were an estimated 24,000 infant deaths in 2013 – and in Canada, just 2,000 (2).

Though simple and cost-effective, the Kangaroo care method is not exclusive to countries with limited healthcare resources: hospitals across Canada and the developed world also encourage integrating Kangaroo care, along with other techniques for improving the overall wellbeing of premature infants.

Knowing that effective care can have huge impact on saving newborns’ lives, Plan Canada is helping provide vital healthcare resources in Zimbabwe. Thanks to our many generous donors and the Government of Canada, hospitals and clinics across the country now have safe, clean and comfortable spaces to support intensive programs like Kangaroo care units – empowering new mothers as they navigate the challenging and sometimes lengthy process of childbirth and recovery.

A mother smiles as she holds her premature twins to her chest.

This new mother gives double the care and attention to her twins! Though certainly rewarding, Kangaroo care can be a long and exhausting experience for a mother. Having the right tools to support the process – like a proper bed – can make it more comfortable, safer and less stressful, increasing its chance of success.

Help more mothers support their babies

In the developing world, healthcare is limited and many clinics lack adequate equipment to support the needs of labouring mothers and their newborns. But having adjustable beds that are built specifically for obstetrical purposes, along with comfortable linens, curtains for privacy and basic medical supplies can make all the difference.

Additionally, the availability of these resources encourages pregnant women and new mothers to seek help from these clinics and receive skilled care – helping save the lives of more women and children.

Help support new mothers around the world, by giving them the greatest gift of all: the power to give their newborn child the best possible start to life.

Sources: 1) World Health Organization (Programs) 2) World Health Organization (Data)

This project receives financial support from the Government of Canada through Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD).