Keeping a Baby Close to Your Heart

Alicia Adler

Program Officer at Save the Children Malawi

January 9, 2016

Imagine spending at least 20 hours a day, 7 days a week with a baby strapped to your chest. Imagine you must eat, sleep, work and care for your other children along with a tiny baby who depends on your continuous skin-to-skin contact and exclusive breastfeeding for survival. This is the basis of kangaroo mother care (KMC), a costeffective intervention to help meet a premature or low-birthweight babys basic needs for warmth, nutrition, stimulation and protection from infection.blog2

For Malawi, with the highest preterm birth rate in the world (18 per 100 live births), KMC is a critical lifesaving intervention. But too few premature babies receive KMC due to lack of awareness, limited resources, and stigma against both KMC and premature/low-birthweight infants. It is not surprising, then, that direct complications of preterm birth are the second leading cause of child deaths after pneumonia, and result in more than 14 newborn deaths every day in Malawi. 

To commemorate World Prematurity Day 2016 on November 17th, Save the Children staff in Malawi accepted the KMC Challenge. Participants practiced KMC with a baby doll for 24 hours – holding the doll throughout work hours, around town and at home for the night. The challenge was accepted by other partners across the country and globe.

Jessie Lwanda, an IT coordinator said, “By doing this challenge, we are saying, ‘let’s give these babies a chance to survive by showing them love and carrying them close to our heart.’”

I have a passion for every child to survive, said Mavis Khondiwa, a Save the Children grants coordinator based in the United States. Through this challenge I could understand what kind of burden those mothers with premature babies face. I really feel for them.

blog1Over the course of the day, 20 men and women got a glimpse into the life of a mother with a premature baby and all the issues it presents. Through what I experienced as a man doing the challenge, I think women need more help, said Nyashadzashe Kaunda, an awards management officer. Men should also be taking care of the child and helping throughout the whole KMC process, he said

At the end of the 24 hours, colleagues returned the dolls and resumed their normal lives. For women around the country, it isnt so easy, though, as their childs life depends on their continued commitment to practice KMC until the baby reaches a healthy weight. In a country where neonatal mortality accounts for 40 percent of all death in children under age 5, it is everyones responsibility to champion KMC, and not just on World Prematurity Day, but every day. 

Save the Children is helping shift norms around the value of newborns in Malawi through the government’s social and behavior change communication (SBCC) campaign, Khanda ndi Mphatso (A Baby is a Gift: Give it a Chance), helping establish KMC sites of excellence in district hospitals, and collaborating with the Ministry of Health to develop a national routine reporting system for KMC services in health facilities.

To learn more about our work to improve newborn survival, click here.

Alicia Adler is a program officer and Global Health Corps fellow with Save the Children in Malawi.

Nafy’s Story: Kangaroo Mother Care in Mali

R10-MA__-70a Dr. Nialen Kaba, Save the Children, project assistant for newborn survival and health

Bamako, Mali

April 14, 2010

I met Nafy on a visit to the Kangaroo Mother Care unit at Gabriel Toure Hospital in Bamako, Mali this past December. She was proud to be carrying her newborn son on her chest.

At delivery, Nafy was upset when the midwife told her that her baby was very small, weighing only 1200 grams (2.6 pounds). When her husband Adama learned of the baby’s condition, his joy quickly faded and he decided not to give the child a name. So, Nafy named him Ismael.

The day after Ismael was born, he was transferred to the pediatrics unit of the hospital. Expecting the worst, Nafy was relieved to learn that her baby had no abnormalities. However, because he was born premature, he would need to be kept warm to help him gain weight and grow.

She was told about Kangaroo Mother Care, a recently accepted practice in Mali that when coupled with a mother’s determination could help Ismael survive. 

View a photo essay featuring moms and babies in the Kangaroo Mother Care ward at Gabriel Toure Hospital in Bamako, Mali.

Nafy quickly adopted the Kangaroo Mother Care method in hopes of seeing her baby survive. She was forced to cope with Ismael alone because her husband Adama and his family were convinced that her efforts would be in vain. 

Their reaction only reinforced Nafy’s resolve. She practiced Kangaroo Mother Care and Ismael gained weight day by day. 

Her slogan was, “She who gives birth to a snake, attaches him to her waist.” The slogan means: Whatever the physical and mental condition of her baby, a mother is always ready to do whatever it takes to help her child survive. 

Each year, about 900,000 newborns worldwide die due to premature births. In Mali, more than 14 percent of newborns are born premature, according to the 2006 Mali Demographic Health Survey. But since the kangaroo care center opened 20 months ago, sover 550 babies have benefitted.

Learn how more than 50 percent of newborn deaths could be saved through Kangaroo Mother Care.

On the day I visited Nafy, Ismael was entering his third week of life.  He weighed 2800 grams (6 pounds) and wiggled to break free from the chest of his mother, who never stopped smiling.

Learn more about Survive to 5, Save the Children's campaign to save the lives of children under 5.