When Susan Akinyi, 26, from Heshima estate in Nakuru gave birth to her second child, she was worried and confused. The baby was too tiny, with low birth weight of only 900 grammes.
It was hard for the mother to cuddle her baby, but a nurse at the newly- established Margaret Kenyatta Mother Baby Wing took the baby to an incubator for observation and monitoring.
For two weeks, she could watch the baby from a distance, for fear of infecting him. She would spend sleepless nights with faint hope about his survival.
At the incubator, she would express milk for his feeding through nasogastric method, but to her surprise, the baby’s weight was not increasing.
At two weeks, the baby was taken to the kangaroo mother care unit, and to her surprise, he gradually added some weight.
At first, the baby added only five grammes. That seemed low, but after two days, he added approximately 100 grammes daily, weight that has since increased to 1.8 kilogrammes.
“Growth of my baby seems a miracle to me. At birth, I could not believe he would survive but here he is, adding weight each single day. I am loving kangaroo mother care, the technology has saved the life of my baby,” she told The Standard during a visit.
Akinyi was trained at the unit on how to handle her preterm baby through skin contact by placing him on her chest for warmth.
At the unit, preterm babies are left naked except for a diaper and placed in an upright position against a parent's bare chest - mothers, and if need be, fathers too, are allowed to manage the babies at the unit.
The initiative made Akinyi get close to her baby. She monitored his breathing and could also tell whenever he was uncomfortable, unlike being in the incubator.
The mother gave birth at the facility on February 17 after being admitted with severe bleeding. She is now due for discharge.
“At birth, I was heartbroken because of low weight of my baby. How would he survive? But gradually he has improved and I see him growing into a productive individual," she said.
Another mother, Christine Nyangeresey, also prides herself in adopting kangaroo mother initiative at the hospital that has enabled her newborn baby improve his health status.
Christine’s baby was born on March 9 weighing only 1.27 kilogrammes, weight that has improved gradually.
“Whenever I hold my baby, I feel proud and happy that he is gradually growing,” said the mother.
The Standard followed the mother on discharge and discovered that she had carried the skills back home, where she ties the baby on her chest while conducting her house chores.
“Skills gained at the hospital enable me take care of the baby at home. For example, when I have some duties to carry out, my husband ties the baby on his chest and nurses him. This helps us interact with the baby continually,” she said.
According to the deputy in-charge of the new born unit Shekilah Cheruiyot, an average of 40 babies receive care at the unit daily.
Three-quarters of children admitted at the new born unit are preterm, who require specialised care. The children have low birth weight, and their digestive systems and lungs have also not developed.
Ms Cheruiyot said kangaroo mother care helps boosts a baby’s mental development, improves healthy weight, milk production, and breastfeeding is made easier. It also encourages a healthy heart rate and respiration.
The method improves the immunity system of newborns, reduces baby’s stress and pain and increases milk production. At the unit, children are fed after every three hours.
Mothers, too, easily monitor progress of their babies as they continue with their roles as compared to when in incubators.
“Incubators are good but they encourage growth of bacteria that can easily infect newborns. This is why we would like mothers to practice kangaroo mother care even at home,” she said.
Cheruiyot said before a baby is taken to the unit, they are weighed and those found to be preterm (those below 1.8kg) are taken to the new born unit for specialised care.
Preterm babies lack body fats and are less able to regulate body temperatures. They are, therefore, taken to incubators that provide them with the required environment for survival.
The initiative is practiced fully at the unit at night and partially during the day. Mothers are also trained on cup and spoon-feeding away from use of tubes.
According to health records, at least 291 babies were handled at the unit in January, February and March. An average of 50 neonatal deaths are reported monthly at the unit.
“Mothers are trained on how to take care of children born prematurely and this includes proper hygiene and feeding that gradually improves their weight. With proper care, any child born with weight of above 800 grammes stands high chances of survival,” she said.
Pregnancy-related elements associated with premature birth, according to the medic, include poor nutrition during pregnancy, smoking, use of illegal drugs and drinking too much alcohol.
“Most neonatal deaths are attributed to very low weight, more so children born below 800 grammes, because they are not able to breath and their main organs are yet to develop fully to survive outside their mother's womb,” she said.
According to medical records, the county registered 42,685 deliveries in 2017, a number that increased to 55,811 in 2018. At least 27 neonatal deaths were reported in 2017, a number that increased to 51 in 2018.
Maternal deaths have progressively reduced from 444 in 2014, a number that placed Nakuru County fourth in the country in maternal death rates.
According to the UNFPA-Kenya statistics of 2014, Mandera County had the highest maternal deaths at 2,136, followed by Wajir (581), Nairobi (533), Nakuru (444) while Kakamega was fifth with 364 deaths.
At least seven per cent of women who died of birth complications across the country were from the cosmopolitan county.
Health executive Kariuki Gichuki told The Standard that health workers are conducting promotive health to increase the number of expectant mothers seeking antenatal health care.
Through antenatal care, medics are able to find out health complications during pregnancy for early solution, an initiative aimed at reducing maternal and neonatal deaths.
“Antenatal investigations is a must for all expectant mothers, a practice that helps check on growth of the baby and health of the mother. This is among measures set in place to curb maternal deaths,” said Dr Gichuki.