THE very best environment for a newborn baby to grow and thrive, is the mother's body. This is the message from Port Elizabeth nurses who deal with Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) everyday, saying there is a need for mothers to be educated.
Many South African hospitals, including state hospital Dora Nginza in Port Elizabeth, have opened up kangaroo care units. These are where the mom stays and the pre-term infant "lives" on her chest until discharge.
Hospitals are confident about this method of growth, although Sister Lynette Myburgh, manager of both neonatal and paediatric intensive care units at Life St George's Hospital, says some mothers still need to be convinced.
"I think that there is a large portion of the 'natural' moms who absolutely want to do this. Unfortunately we need to educate our mothers that this is acceptable and the best for both moms and babies, and that this practice is not only for poor third-world communities.
"The baby, who is naked except for a nappy and a piece of cloth covering his or her back, is placed in an upright position against a parent's bare chest.
"The infant typically snuggles into the breast and falls asleep within a few minutes," Myburgh said.
"Breasts can increase in temperature when the infant's body is cool and can decrease in temperature as the baby is warmed. It doesn't matter whether a mother breast feeds or not, all women can, and should be, doing this.
"The extra sleep that the infant gets and the assistance in regulating body temperature helps the baby conserve energy and redirects calorie expenditures toward growth and weight gain.
"Being positioned that way also helps to stabilise the infant's respiratory and heart rates.
"Research has also shown that kangaroo care results in positive effects on brain development.
"It also improves bonding between mother and child and increased confidence in ability of the mothers to care for their babies. This increases the sense of control." Sister Kathleen Mtshayi, of Dora Nginza, says the hospital has been using KMC for about a decade. She agreed with Myburgh, saying having any baby stay with the mother is key to the child's development.
"Babies receiving KMC have more regular breathing. It protects against infections and death resulting from illnesses such as pneumonia. Skin-to-skin contact regulates the babies temperature with a reduced risk of hypothermia.
"Studies have revealed that KMC results in more successful breast-feeding.
"Studies have also shown that premature babies cared for using KMC could be discharged earlier than conventionally managed babies," she said. Myburgh said that dads could by all means be involved as well.
But dads are not so natural at it because of hormonal differences. "Both babies and dads tend at this time to get hotter than if the skin-to-skin was done by mom because dad's chest wall doesn't regulate the temperature."