News / Health

Q&A with Joy Lawn: Kangaroo Mother Care

FILE - A mother performs Kangaroo care, or skin-to-skin contact, with her premature baby to give the baby the physical stimulation it needs.
FILE - A mother performs Kangaroo care, or skin-to-skin contact, with her premature baby to give the baby the physical stimulation it needs.
Frances Alonzo
A mother’s touch really cam save a child’s life. That’s the claim behind Kangaroo Mother Care. It’s when a pre-term or low weight baby is literally tied to the mother’s front, skin to skin, to keep the baby warm. The idea is not new, but this simple act is literally saving thousands of babies around the world. There is solid research to back up the claims.  The research is led by neonatologist Joy Lawn and appears in the International Journal of Epidemiology. Lawn spoke to VOA’s Frances Alonzo and outlined this most effective intervention to reduce newborn deaths in Asia. 

LAWN: Kangaroo Mother Care is when we have a little pre-term baby, who is very vulnerable, particularly to temperature, infections, and to difficulties in feeding. And that baby is tied to the mother’s front and what that provides is warmth and then from the mother breast-feeding, so the baby gains weight much more. But one of the other interesting things we are learning is that it really reduces the risk of infections. So instead of the baby being separated they get the mother's skin infections, which are actually good infections, and protect the baby from other bugs that they may get particularly in a hospital but it also has an effect on brain growth for the baby.
ALONZO: The whole idea of kangaroo care doesn’t seem really new. Had the medical community gotten away from what may be considered just natural motherhood, natural care of a child?
LAWN: I know that is exactly right. And what we see is the expectation for neonatal care for small babies, especially pre-term babies, is very much based on machines and hospitals and we would separate babies from their mothers. But this is actually very careful science and partly out of desperation maybe that the doctors started tying the babies to the mother's front which kept them warm.
ALONZO: How does this help with preemies born in Asia?
LAWN: Very important question. Asia has the highest rate of small babies born in the world. In some parts of Asia, particularly in South Asia, almost a third of babies are less than 2.5 kilograms. So low birth weight. And those babies are at the biggest risk of death and disability and of complications when they're small. And it used to be thought that there was nothing you could do for these babies. And so this is a real turnaround, not that it’s a poor person’s solution. Actually, interestingly, the countries that are moving fastest on changing their care to include kangaroo mother care are the richest countries. But this is something that’s very accessible that every baby and every mother in the world has the power to be able to do this. And it can really change survival for the babies. India alone has about 900,000 babies who die every year and the most common cause is being born preterm or being born too small compared to the size that you should be or both. And those babies, many of them could be saved by kangaroo mother care and by the supportive care that is provided with that.
ALONZO: What is it about the region in Asia that has low birth weight babies?
LAWN: What’s different in Asia, is that in South Asia there are also a lot of babies who are born smaller than expected and that isn’t just about feeding pregnant women or the nutrition you get when you are pregnant, a lot of that is about girls who are already too small, so that the girl who isn’t fed well who grows up shorter than she should be, her potential for having a normal size baby is reduced. In some settings in South Asia where you know maybe there is preferential care for the boys versus the girls. The boys may be fed more than the girls, but also maybe when the girls get ill they aren’t taken to hospitals. So your adult size as well as your genetics is also very determined by what happens in those first couple of years of life.
ALONZO: What you are saying is that if a baby girl is born, she’s preterm, but she’s not taken care of as much, she’s not given quite as much to eat, as an infant up to two years. So then as she grows older and becomes a mom herself, the likelihood of her having a preterm baby and low birth weight baby is much higher.
LAWN: Yeah, that’s exactly right. So I think the exciting thing now is that as we look around the world that people are really talking about how we are the first generation that has a chance to see a change in health for the whole of the next generation in every country. And the secret for that, particularly in South Asia, is this intergenerational change. So we can do things for babies that are born small now. We can improve their care. We can do kangaroo mother care and that will save lives today. But we will carry on having lots of small babies unless we pay attention also to those next generation going forward and the nutrition of girl children.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs