Father keeps newborn warm to prevent hypothermia in Ukraine

A new father warms his baby through skin-to-skin contact while his wife recovers from a Caesarean delivery.

Oleh could never have predicted that he would one day perform a function that until recently was seen as a mother's job. While his wife, Lyudmyla, was still under anesthesia after having given birth via Caesarean section in the Lutsk Maternity Hospital, their baby girl was put on his chest for 2-hour skin-to-skin contact to keep her warm.

Ukrainian maternity hospitals have had a history of problems with hypothermic babies. Unlike adults, newborns need a room temperature of at least 25C° (77F°). A 2003 needs assessment conducted in the city maternity hospitals of four pilot regions by the USAID-funded Mother and Infant Health Project (MIHP) showed that health care personnel didn't pay attention to such phenomenon as newborn hypothermia. Most medical professionals held the view that if they and the mother felt comfortable in the delivery rooms then newborns were feeling the same.

Many of the maternity hospitals where MIHP now works had rates of hypothermia among newborns that ranged from 41 to 90 percent before conditions were changed. This hypothermia was caused by cold delivery rooms, failing to maintain "warm-chain" techniques, and separation of baby from mother right after birth. The practice of tightly swaddling babies in hospital clothes in temperatures less then 25C° often led to hypoglycemia, breathing difficulties, infections and feeding complications among newborns. For low-weight and pre-term babies, hypothermia was a severe life threatening factor and at times even fatal.

MIHP introduced warm chain techniques and had mothers bring baby clothes from home, which dropped the rate of hypothermia among newborns in the Lutsk maternity hospital from 90 to 0 percent. The initiation of mother and newborn skin-to-skin contact immediately following birth not only warmed the newborns, but allowed them to easily latch-on to the mother's breast and obtain those first precious drops of the mother's colostrums so vital for increasing a baby's immunity. When the mother is unable to warm the child, as in Oleh's case, the father participates. It also helps the entire family begin developing those strong bonds that will keep them together.

"It is hard to put this into words. It was magnificent. The baby felt good. The only thing I could not do was breastfeed her," explains Oleh, while sharing his unforgettable memory.