Healthy preemies and confident parents in Ukraine

New parents Oleg and Irina demonstrate how to perform skin-to-skin contact with their premature newborn twins. Frequent skin-to-skin contact is an essential component of Kangaroo Mother Care. Photo Credit: Paula Evans/JSI

Life with twins is busy for any new parent, but for Irina and Oleg, life with "preemies" Dmitri and Alexandra is especially full. Born two and a half months premature, both twins weighed under four pounds at birth.

After spending several days in a nearby neonatal intensive care unit, Irina and Oleg were referred to Kyiv's National Children's Ohmatdet Hospital, where JSI's Maternal & Infant Health Project, funded by USAID, has helped introduce a program called Kangaroo Mother Care. Kangaroo Mother Care helps healthy, but vulnerable, preterm infants gain weight and become stronger while bonding closely with their parents.

In Ukraine, 5.3% of all babies are born prematurely. Premature babies are at risk for serious health problems including hypothermia, breathing difficulties, and difficulty feeding.

Kangaroo Mother Care encourages constant skin-to-skin contact between caregiver and child. Wearing just a diaper, socks, and a hat, the baby is placed across the caregiver's bare chest and is covered with a blanket. This process keeps the baby warmer and less stressed than it would be in a standard hospital incubator. In the case of twins, both babies are snuggled skin-to-skin at the same time. Parents record daily feedings, temperatures, weight gain, and diaper changes on their baby's easy-to-use medical chart.

"[Our babies] are always calm while practicing skin-to-skin contact with us. All hospitals in Ukraine should have such a program."

- Oleg, new parent to twin preemies

With JSI support, the Kangaroo Mother Care program has been running at Ohmatdet for several months now, and clinicians and parents alike are starting to see results. According to doctors overseeing the program, the hospital's Kangaroo Care babies have more stable temperatures, require fewer antibiotics, breastfeed more, suffer fewer gastrointestinal problems, have more stable heart rates, and cry much less frequently. Parents benefit too—they quickly gain the confidence needed to care for their newborns.

Oleg admits that, at first, he didn't know what to expect from Kangaroo Mother Care. When he arrived at Ohmatdet Hospital, Oleg was nervous about handling his tiny babies. The staff worked with Oleg to quickly get him up to speed with the process. Now Oleg enjoys skin-to-skin contact with Dmitri and Alexandra so much that he plans to continue Kangaroo Care at home.

Irina enjoys the process, too, "At the other hospital, we were not allowed to hold our babies for more than one hour a day. Here, we hold our babies for ten to twelve hours a day."

After five weeks of Kangaroo Mother Care, the twins have each gained more than two pounds and are beginning to breastfeed normally. Meanwhile, their parents have gained the confidence they need to care for their babies on their own.