Preemie Care: Mother's Impact is Awesome

Preemie Care: Mother's Impact is Awesome
In the NICU, the primary value is high tech nursing.  The preemie is the patient.  His care is the priority.  He is considered as independent of the mother when he leaves the womb.  Mother often stands on the periphery as an outsider while the nurses take control and care for the baby.  But, get this.  When we take stable preterm babies out of the incubators and place them in continuous skin-to-skin contact with their mothers (also called Kagaroo Mother Care), something incredible happens.

Not only is the preemie’s body temperature regulated, his respiration is regulated too.  So is his heart rate.  Not too slow, not to fast.  Just right.  There is less chance the baby will stop breathing (apneic episodes) and the mother is more likely to let down her milk.  There is more milk. And the baby is more likely to nurse longer.  He will digest it better.  He will cry less, and sleep more, and be less stressed.  His immune system will be stronger.  And with those conserved calories, he will grow.  And he will leave the hospital sooner. And he will thrive.  These extensive health benefits of KMC are backed by science.

Unfortunately, knowledge does not equal implementation.  When the NICU staff doesn’t include mothers in the equation, they are not prioritizing giving the baby the highest impact care possible.  The incubator is meant to mimic the womb, but the mother’s chest, as a holding place, is far superior to the static incubator.  Have you heard of thermal synchrony?  Incubators can’t pull that off.

Mothers are tuned by evolution to provide a safe holding place after birth for their babies' continued growth. When you place a baby upright on his mother’s chest, skin to skin, nutrition, protection, warmth and proximity are all taken care of.  This is just what preemies need to stabilize and focus on healing, development and growth.

The latest KMC study compares to the standard care a preemie would typically receive in a hospital setting.  The findings are moving.  They found an incredible 51 percent reduction in neonatal mortality (from preterm complications) when...

    • stabilized babies weighing 2000g/~<4lbs received KMC (on their mother’s chests)

    • KMC was in a hospital setting

    • KMC was implemented within the first week of birth

The effects of adding mother to the equation are powerful.  Baby+Mother= 500,000 more preemies surviving every year.

The findings suggest that up to half a million newborn deaths due to preterm birth complications could be prevented each year if Kangaroo Mother Care were available for all preterm babies.

Sure, it may seem like wishful thinking to imagine the microenvironment (even if it is thermostatically controlled) of a mother's chest replacing the high-tech incubator.  We are a techy society.  In this instance we have research coming from low income countries that can teach us a thing or two.  We do have a love affair with the incubator and the controlled environment it seemingly provides.  Of course a mother needs to rest too and continuous skin-to-skin contact may be too much to ask of mothers in high-income countries.  Nonetheless, KMC should be presented to the parents of a preterm infant as the most effective care.  Without say, it should be made available as a choice.  It could have a major impact if implemented at scale.

As Dr Joy Lawn says,

“No matter if babies are born in Lilongwe, London or Los Angeles, preterm babies need extra care to survive. Kangaroo Mother Care is low-cost and feasible, and we now have proof it is one of the most highly effective ways to give more babies the chance to survive and thrive.”

We cannot ignore the facts.

I leave you with this video where my friend Angela shares her story of moving from outsider to playing an active role in her preemie son’s recovery. Kangaroo Mother Care is her secret.  She will inspire you with her grace.


She named her son “Levi”- meaning “we are one”.  They are amazing together.