‘Kangaroo care’ helps premature babies thrive

Ensuring skin-to-skin contact between new babies and mothers in Serbia.

By Vladimir Banic
A new mother uses the kangaroo chair and other equipment to hold her baby to her chest.
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Pancic
15 May 2018

Little Elena Stojic was in a hurry to get to know the world. She was born in the maternity ward in Kragujevac at 29 weeks, two months early. She is the second child in her family, but the first to spend her first days, not at home, but in hospital. Her mother, Mirjana, recalls how she felt when she saw Elena in the incubator for the first time.

“When Elena was born, she weighed just 980 grams and we were very concerned about her development. Childbirth in itself is stressful, but it’s much more stressful when you cannot be with your baby,” says Mirjana Stojic.

For more than 30 days Mirjana was only able to look at Elena through the incubator. That first physical contact, which is so crucial, was not possible due to conditions in the hospital. However, everything changed with UNICEF's donation to the Kragujevac Neonatology Center.

Elena experienced skin-to-skin contact with her mother thanks to a kangaroo care chair and top allowing Mirjana to hold her preterm baby on her chest for longer periods of time. A small hat and socks, together with the kangaroo care top, also aided this important process by helping Elena maintain a healthy body temperature. Skin-to-skin contact is a wonderful way to encourage parent-baby bonding, and provides health and developmental benefits. 

“The moment I took my child in my arms and put her on my chest, the magic began... The greatest pleasure; the sweetest child is with me. Happiness, joy... At that moment time stopped - it was just the two of us. We relished this time together, it felt like time had stopped for us,” Mirjana describes the first time she put Elena on her chest.

She compares her daughter's behaviour before and after their first skin-to-skin contact.“Elena was pulling the probes, pulling all those little cables. With the first skin-to-skin contact - she was calmer. While she was on my chest, the frequency of her heartbeats reduced. And her progress in terms of weight is visible. After our first skin-to-skin contact her weight increased rapidly.”

Dr Ristic, Head of the Kragujevac Neonatology Center, emphasises the importance of the donation of twelve “nests” used for positioning babies while they are in the incubator.

“Nests help babies be in a similar position to the one they would be in in the womb. This [donation] means so much to us. Before, we had to get by any way we could”, says Dr Dragana Ristic.

Baby Elena lies in a "nest" in an incubator.
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Pancic
The “nest” helps Elena feel like she’s still in the womb.

As babies gain weight, psychomotor development follows. Elena is not only gaining weight, but she has established a strong bond with her mother. 

“When I see Elena smile, I feel unbelievable happiness – she is fine. If she's smiling, she’s fine. She’s a satisfied baby, satisfied with everything that is being done for her, with everything that she’s given and provided with. When the baby is happy, the mom is also happy.”

“Skin-to-skin contact reduces stress, as babies can listen to their mom’s heartbeat and voice, and feel the warmth and smell of their mom’s body. Simultaneously, lactation is stimulated, which is so important for a child's nutrition,” explains Dr Ristic.

The benefits of skin-to-skin contact are not lost on Mirjana and her husband. 

“It was like the biggest dream come true for us. Even though she was so small, I wasn’t afraid to hold my child. I was overcome with the desire to just take her in my arms, to have her close to me. That's my mission as a mother – to put my child on my chest and provide her with the security and safety every child deserves”.

UNCEF, within its programme of cooperation with the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Serbia, collaborates with the Clinical Centre of Kragujevac to improve the conditions for the care of preterm new-borns in the Centre for Neonatology. Apart from the procurement of medical equipment, UNICEF has also invested in the additional training of 30 neonatologists and paediatric nurses in Kragujevac.