Kangaroo care; the long hug to life for preemies and low birth weight newborns
When we met Rashidah Namuyindi and her husband Saidi Gawa on this day last year at Iganga Hospital in Eastern Uganda, they had just gotten their sixth child a couple of days earlier. Unlike their older children, this one had come early at seven months. In short, the baby a preterm.
“I developed pressure at seven months which refused to go down. So, after treatment for some days, the doctor decided to operate me. When I got some strength after a couple of days, I was told to be keeping the baby in the chest as my husband had done for three days,” Rashidah told us back then. “When I get tired my husband will be helping. When it comes to feeding I get baby out of the chest and put him back immediately after. Even when we get discharged I will continue doing this as advised.”
What Rashidah was describing as putting baby in chest is Kangaroo care, a method of caring for a premature baby in which the infant is held in skin-to-skin contact with a parent, typically the mother, for as long as possible each day. The practice typically meant for stable preterm and very low birth weight infants stabilizes heart and respiratory rates, improves oxygen saturation rates, better regulates an infant’s body temperature, and conserves a baby’s calories. However, the practice can be exhausting to a mother recovering from childbirth and Rashidah was lucky to have Saidi by her side.
“I was shocked when my wife blacked out and the doctor said the only way of saving her life was to have an operation [C-section]. At that time, I had to give her all the support and care because it was a matter of life and death,” said Saidi, who also had some straight talk to fellow men. “Men should love their wives and appreciate what they go through. Many have neglected their responsibilities. I have seen some who are even asked for gloves at delivery time and they say they don’t have them. Whenever men impregnate their wives, they should always remember the blissful act that resulted into conception and sober up to take care of their spouses through the pregnancy.”
In the run up to yet another International Kangaroo Care Awareness Day today, we last week paid a visit to the Gawa family at their Busolera village in Ibulanku Sub county, about 25 kilometres out of Iganga Town. Save for a few hiccups occasioned by the biting economic times in the country, the Gawa family is happy. Rashidah and Saidi kept their promises made on this day, a year ago.
Rashidah said she disregarded whatever traditional practices suggested by some community members and stuck to Kangaroo care, proper breast feeding, and maintaining proper hygiene as advised by health workers. She kept practicing kangaroo care and the results can be seen in the progress of her son who is now attempting to walk.
For Saidi, he made it his business as the family head to ensure that he helped his wife keeping the baby in kangaroo care position as recommended by medics as they left Iganga Hospital. The follow-up calls they received from health workers motivated him further.
“These calls were reassuring and encouraging. They kept reminding us what to do regarding caring for the baby. We did not get any serious problems with the baby. It was only when he was teething that the temperature was too high, and we rushed him back to hospital.”
Iganga Hospital where Rashidah was admitted when she became an emergency case is one of the five hospitals in the sub region where the East Africa Preterm Birth Initiative (PTBi-EA) study partnered with Makerere University School of Public Health through the Centre of Excellence for Maternal Newborn and Child Health to implement a package of interventions to improve preterm birth outcomes.
The kangaroo care and the follow up calls that Rashidah and Saidi alluded to are sub components of PTBi-EA’s package of interventions. The package includes a customized version of the WHO’s Safe Childbirth Checklist; simulation and team training for providers through PRONTO International (preparing clinicians to better identify and manage preterm births); and training for health facility staff in quality improvement cycles.
Author & Image Credits: Kakaire Ayub Kirunda