kangaroo care

Topic: The life-saving benefits of kangaroo care

Ojoma Ekhomun knew the birth of her first child was going to be difficult – just as she went for her six-month check-up and scan, Nigeria went into lockdown. What she did not expect at that appointment in March, was to find herself back at the hospital less than a month later going into labour just 31 weeks into her pregnancy.

Her tiny, premature son weighed just 1lb 8oz (700g) when he was delivered through caesarean section. He was underdeveloped and his low weight made him extremely vulnerable. According to doctors, the baby boy – named Akahomhen – was the smallest child to have been cared for at the Amuwo Odofin Maternal and Child Centre in Lagos, where he was transferred immediately after being born.

In the days that followed, Akahomhen’s weight dropped to 1lb 5oz (600g) and his doctors were concerned. Around 205 babies die in Nigeria every day as a result of being born premature – accounting for 31% of all neonatal deaths in the country.

Despite being Africa’s biggest economy, poor investment in health infrastructure, coupled with limited access to maternity services in some areas, means that neonatal mortality in the country is among the highest in the world. Rural areas in particular have high rates of maternal and newborn deaths.

Fortunately for Ekhomun’s son, the Amuwo Odofin Maternal and Child Centre is one of the more modern facilities in the country. Doctors were able to put her son into an incubator – often in short supply in Nigeria – and slowly his weight began to rise. But just as he reached 2lbs 3oz (1kg) – still a critically low weight for a newborn – they took him out.

Instead, the doctors bundled him against his mother’s chest, their naked skin pressed against each other. Ekhomun carried him like this everywhere she went over the following weeks, unwrapping him only to breast feed and to sleep.

Slowly her son began gaining weight, putting on around 1oz (30g) a day until he weighed 3lbs 15oz (1.8kg) at 60 days old. Initially he had to be fed through a syringe, but gradually he began to breastfeed. Over the following months, Ekhomun continued to carry her son swaddled next to her skin as he grew into a healthy, bouncing baby.

“He is very safe there,” says the 26-year-old mother. “I enjoy the heat between the baby and myself.”

This simple, but remarkably effective approach – known as “kangaroo care” due to the way the baby is carried on the mother’s front – is regarded as one of the best alternatives to incubators when caring for premature and low-weight babies.

Topic Discussed: The life-saving benefits of kangaroo care

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