WHO urges for immediate skin to skin care to save babies born prematurely

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By Alfred Koroma

WHO has in new guidelines published on Tuesday urged for premature babies to be given to skin contact immediately after birth to improve their survival and health outcomes.

The World Health Organization advises that skin to skin contact with a caregiver, known as kangaroo mother care, should start immediately after birth, without any initial period in an incubator.

This is a step away from common clinical process and let caregivers and their preterm babies can stay close, without being separated after birth.

“The first embrace with a parent is not only emotionally important, but also absolutely critical for improving chances of survival and health outcomes for small and premature babies,”  Dr Karen Edmond, Medical Officer for Newborn Health at WHO is quoted saying.

“Through COVID-19 times, we know that many women were unnecessarily separated from their babies, which could be catastrophic for the health of babies born early or small. These new guidelines stress the need to provide care for families and preterm babies together as a unit, and ensure parents get the best possible support through what is often a uniquely stressful and anxious time,” Dr Edmond added.

 Preterm or premature babies are babies born early before 37 weeks of pregnancy or small with a low birthweight, less than 2.5kg at birth.

Annually, an estimated 15 million babies are born premature. That is more than 1 in 10 of all births globally.

 Those babies can survive but that depends on where they are born. According to WHO, premature babies born at or after 28 weeks in rich countries mostly survive while in poorer countries survival rates can be as low as 10%.

The UN Agency’s guidelines indicate a rise in the number of babies born prematurely, making prematurity a leading cause of death of children under five, and an urgent public health issue.

“Preterm babies can survive, thrive, and change the world – but each baby must be given that chance,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “These guidelines show that improving outcomes for these tiny babies is not always about providing the most high-tech solutions, but rather ensuring access to essential healthcare that is centred around the needs of families.”

The guidelines also provide recommendations to ensure emotional, financial and workplace support for families of very small and preterm babies, who can face extraordinary stress and hardship because of intensive caregiving demands and anxieties around their babies’ health.

 The guidelines which were released ahead of World Prematurity Day, observed every November 17 emphasize breastfeeding to improve health outcomes for preterm and low birthweight babies, saying it reduces infection risks compared to infant formula.

They further recommend for increased emotional and financial support for caregivers. And advocate for parental leave to help families care for the infant, the guidelines state, while government and regulatory policies and entitlements should ensure families of preterm and low birthweight babies receive sufficient financial and workplace support.

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