“Kangaroo Mother Care”​—Solution to a Life-Threatening Problem?

The location was a hospital in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1979. Because the survival rate for premature babies was alarmingly low, a Colombian doctor came up with a novel solution​—“kangaroo mother care.”

Keeping premature infants alive is a challenge for doctors. Babies with low birth weights are often placed in the warm environment of an incubator, where they remain until they have gained weight. In developing lands, however, overcrowded facilities, poor sanitation, and a shortage of medical personnel and equipment often result in dangerous cross infections.

A doctor in Colombia came up with a method that seems to alleviate this problem. How does it work? When a baby is born prematurely, it is cared for in the standard way until its condition stabilizes. In the meantime, the mother receives training in child care. When the baby is sufficiently healthy, the mother becomes a living incubator. How? By keeping her baby close to her, wrapped vertically between her breasts. Safe in its kangaroolike pouch, the baby stays warm and can easily be fed its mother’s milk. Hence, the method is often called kangaroo mother care.

No fancy equipment is necessary. The mother wears a suitable blouse or a normal dress with a waistband. When the baby has gained sufficient weight, the mother and baby can go home, returning to the hospital regularly for checkups.

Preliminary research indicates that kangaroo mother care is effective and safe. Furthermore, it seems to promote a closer bond between infant and mother. Not surprisingly, this method has been adapted for use in many countries. In Mexico, relatives are trained to become “kangaroo fathers,” “kangaroo grandmothers,” and even “kangaroo sisters” to help out when mother needs a well-deserved break. Dr. Guadalupe Santos, who manages a kangaroo mother care program in Mexico, told Awake!: “We have been using this method since 1992 and have seen how effective it is. Fewer incubators and much less hospital time are needed.”