Each year 20 million babies are born with low birthweight and at least 1 million die due to direct complications of preterm birth. Incubators are widely used in high-income countries for the care of very small and premature babies. However, many hospitals in low-income countries do not have incubators. Where incubators are available, they may not work due to power shortages or missing part and often the number of small babies exceeds the number of available incubators, resulting in a high risk of cross infection. In addition, the prolonged stay in hospital associated with incubator care is often very costly for families, and contributes to overcrowding of the already small space in neonatal units. (photo courtesy of Kate Kerber/Save the Children; text by Kate Kerber and Joy Lawn.)
The problems described above, as well as the impact of mother and newborn separation led to the development of Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) in Colombia in the 1970s. KMC has three main components including thermal care through skin-to-skin contact of the baby on the mother’s chest; support for exclusive breastfeeding or other appropriate feeding; and early recognition and response to complications. KMC can be started after birth as soon as the baby is clinically stable and can be continued at home until the baby is stronger, usually around the time the baby would have been born if they had been full term. KMC is widely considered to be equivalent to conventional neonatal care for stable preterm babies and is more parent- and baby-friendly in all settings.
Here a mother practices Kangaroo Mother Care with her newborn baby, 1-week-old, at Mowbray Maternity Hospital in South Africa. Mothers in over 100 facilities in South Africa are caring for their small babies using KMC. (photo courtesy of Chris Taylor/Save the Children; text by Kate Kerber and Joy Lawn.)