Findings from a new study coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO) demonstrate that initiation of kangaroo mother care (KMC) alongside skin-to-skin contact and exclusive breastfeeding dramatically improves survival outcomes for preterm or low-weight babies when started immediately after birth.
A total of 3,211 infants and their mothers took part in the trial and received varying levels of skin-to-skin care. Infants with a birth weight between 1.0 and 1.799kg who received immediate KMC were found to have lower mortality rates at 28 days than those who received conventional care with KMC initiated post-stabilisation.
KMC is already known to reduce mortality by 40% when introduced to clinically stable hospitalised infants with a birth weight less than 2.0k. However, this important new study provides evidence to show a further 25% reduction in mortality when KMC is initiated immediately after birth, either by the mother or a surrogate. This suggests that early initiation of KMC could save up to 150,000 more lives each year.
Dr Bjorn Westrup, of the Karolinska Institute, Sweden, and a technical expert for the study said, “The best way to nurture the newly born low birth weight baby, including in high-income countries, is through ongoing skin-to-skin contact with the mother, in a mother-newborn couplet care unit that provides care and medical treatment for both.”
Dr Rajiv Bahl, Head of the Newborn Unit at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the coordinator of the study said, “Keeping the mother and baby together right from birth with zero separation will revolutionise the way neonatal intensive care is practised for babies born early or small. When started at the soonest possible time, kangaroo mother care can save more lives, improve health outcomes for babies and ensures the constant presence of the mother with her sick baby.”
The WHO is currently in the process of reviewing its 2015 recommendations on initiating KMC upon stabilisation of the infant in light of the new evidence that has become available.