How to Help your newborn grow up healthy

This was originally post on by Jim Litch – see HERE

I spent years living and working in rural, mountainous Nepal – a 10 day walk from the nearest road – and one experience has always stood out to me. One morning I was called to the delivery of a baby who was being born much too soon. The hospital had a donated incubator that had long stopped functioning safely. The practice of the hospital had been to wrap and bundle these small, vulnerable babies in clean cloths and lay them in bed with their mothers. Instead, we placed this baby on his mother’s tummy, dried and examined the baby there, and then left him against her skin with a cover over the mother and baby’s bodies. We were able to teach the mother to express breastmilk and feed her baby for a few days until he was strong enough to suck on his own.

Prolonged skin-to-skin contact is the practice of holding a naked newborn against his or her mother’s or father’s bare chest continuously until the baby grows large enough to manage in the open air. Babies born too soon are fragile, face challenges regulating their temperature, are susceptible to infections, and are not fully ready to leave the womb for the world they’ve been thrust into. They lose body heat rapidly, so skin-to-skin care helps keep them warm and stave off illness and infection. And preterm babies require comfort, stability and nurturing that recreates the womb environment that these babies left too early.

With skin-to-skin care, the parent is serving the role of incubator, without the need for electricity or high technology. This early, sustained contact has been shown to regulate the baby’s temperature and breathing as well as promote breastfeeding, boost a newborn’s immunity, facilitate parent-child bonding, and many other benefits. If babies are not able to breastfeed on their own, then mothers can express breast milk and feed with a cup and spoon until the baby grows strong enough to be able to suck. Together, these two simple acts, skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding can and do save lives and help babies develop to their full potential.

Through my work with Every Preemie – SCALE and the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth, I am acutely aware of the importance of breastfeeding and prolonged skin-to-skin care. Every Preemie works with governments to make caring for preterm and low birth weight babies a priority, teaching health care workers the importance and practicalities of breastfeeding and skin-to-skin care.

Recently, a paper was published in BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth highlighting the benefit of skin-to-skin contact to breastfeeding success. Additionally, just last week I came across a great infographic, which shows many of the wonderful benefits of skin-to-skin care.

Skin-to-skin contact helps mothers establish a good breastfeeding bond with their newborn. And mothers who breastfeed are less likely to develop osteoporosis later in life and also have a lower risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, there are more than 800 million women working around the world who don’t have adequate maternity protection at work, which makes it very difficult for them to breastfeed their newborns when they need it most.

Eight hundred million is a staggering number, but I hope that through greater awareness of the importance of breastfeeding and skin-to-skin care, more countries will prioritize mothers and work to better accommodate them in the important days and weeks after birth. Everyone benefits: babies are healthier, mothers are more rested and engaged, and employers have a more loyal and contented workforce.

As for that remote hospital in Nepal, skin-to-skin care has been combined with breastfeeding or breast milk feeding for all babies born at the hospital.

This World Breastfeeding Week, please help share about the importance of skin-to-skin care and breastfeeding, so that all babies can have a healthier start to life!

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