This blog was originally published in Impatient Optimists. Written by Dr. Janna Patterson and Lydia Schmeltzer.
Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) has been practiced in many countries like Colombia for decades. The practice of keeping a baby warm and close to her mother – allowing for ease of breastfeeding and exposure to all the “good bacteria” – is seemingly so simple, yet it has failed to gain wide traction. Why is this? Some mothers practicing KMC report discomfort and challenges when performing their daily activities. Other mothers may not have been taught the importance of KMC.
Because KMC is good for all babies but can be lifesaving for preterm babies, we want to find creative ways to make it easier for mothers. Recently the Gates Foundation together with the Boston Consulting Group convened a group of product developers and advisors to explore innovative solutions and to learn from KMC in action. We held this convening in connection with the recent Saving Newborn Lives KMC Acceleration meeting and the 10th International Conference on KMC in Kigali, Rwanda.
While in Kigali, we visited the delivery ward at the Muhima District Hospital to see KMC in action. We met a mother who had recently delivered a preterm baby. She was wearing a blue hospital robe and looked up as we entered her room and smiled as we approached. In her arms was her preterm daughter, asleep. Her hands looked too big to handle such a fragile bundle, but this didn’t seem to faze her. Her smile didn’t fade, her shoulders hunched over slightly as she looked down at her daughter with admiration. She spoke to us through a translator. She told us she was happy because her baby breastfed for the first time just moments before we arrived. It gave her hope that her daughter would survive and begin to grow. The mother stroked the delicate face resting in her arms, breast milk still showing on the corners of the infant’s mouth.
We were led to the next room where two mothers were practicing KMC. This was a darker room lit only by a gentle orange glow from the curtains that were pulled to shield the mothers and babies from hot afternoon sun. Small babies were wrapped against their mothers, skin-to-skin, as they sat peacefully in raised hospital beds. They too were smiling. We knew the mother we saw in the first room would soon join them to continue KMC and give her baby the greatest chance of survival.
Seeing KMC in practice seemed so simple, yet we know there has been very little uptake of this intervention globally (currently, just 5% according to WHO’s Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth). How can we make it easier for mothers to continue to practice KMC at home? Can a KMC wrap make it easier for mothers to hold their babies skin-to-skin safely and comfortably? Can KMC buddy groups make it easier for women to practice? We aim to find out through product innovation and implementation research!
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