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Kangaroo Mother Care takes root in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 19 – The first time I met mother-of-three Sophia Ngugi and a group of women at the Kenyatta National Hospital\’s (KNH) Newborn Unit, I was rather perturbed by the way they carried their newborn infants.

The babies were carefully tucked under their mothers\’ clothes on the abdomen. I then learnt that Sophia and the other mothers were just nursing their newborns who were born prematurely.

The mothers are taught the Kangaroo Mother Care method, an innovative and cost effective way to keep premature and underweight new born babies warm and help in their growth.

"It has a lot of benefits like it creates a relationship between me and the kid and it also increases the warmth which is the most important thing to the baby," says Sophia.

Beth Mumbi is yet another mother at the unit. She had an emergency delivery after suffering complications in the seventh month of her pregnancy. She gave birth to a baby weighing 1.1 kilograms.

"I had to go through caesarean section because I had high blood pressure," she says.

The Kangaroo Mother Care concept was introduced at the hospital more than 10 years ago to facilitate growth and development on pre-term babies commonly referred to as premature babies.

"This concept is aimed at facilitating or increasing growth and development on the pre-term babies so that they may be able to gain weight faster as well as develop faster," explains Florence Ogongo, Nurse in charge of the newborn unit.

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She says the intervention is performed on all pre-term babies who are born healthy but weigh less than two kilograms.

However, those infants that have other complications and need oxygen are put in an incubator, which is expensive for most mothers because they have to pay an extra Sh800 everyday for the care.

"Keeping the baby in the incubator is too costly. We are talking about a machine that actually costs a million shillings plus for one," explains the nurse in charge.

"On top of that it uses power so you will be having electricity running throughout and there is also the cost of maintenance and cleaning. If you compare with a mum who simply needs to keep her baby inside her abdomen, wrap this baby around her and sit around comfortably,  it is quite expensive," she goes on to say.

Again, when a baby is in the incubator, a mother is only allowed to see it at certain times and at KNH it is every three hours. According to the Nurse in charge, this slows down growth of the baby because it lacks constant human touch.

There is also the risk of infections, she says, because sometimes the infants share the only 10 available incubators at the unit.

The Kangaroo Mother Care Method can be practiced either partially where you cover the baby for a certain number of hours in a day or full time.

"Where unfortunately we don\’t have the mother, the fathers can also practice Kangaroo Mother Care despite the fact that it is referred to as Kangaroo Mother Care. Any other care giver can also do it as well as the health care workers," she says.

Using the Kangaroo Mother Care as opposed to an incubator reduces the hospital stay of an infant because they are allowed home at 1.7 kilograms and then the mothers can continue with the Kangaroo Mother Care at home.

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But when using an incubator, an infant has to stay in hospital until they reach the weight of 1.9 kilograms.

The Kangaroo Mother Care was first practiced in the 1900\’s in South America where it originated.

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