Joseph Phiri, 40, a businessperson from Masautso Village in Chief Zulu’s area in Mchinji strapped his twin daughters to his bare chest every morning for four months every time his wife Doreen was preparing their other children for school.
Men and women frowned on the practice and even he, Phiri, hesitated at first, but gave in when he appreciated his wife’s struggles.
While he was expected to go to his business place alone, his wife was spending sleepless nights keeping the babies warm besides managing household chores.
As time passed by, Phiri got used and started caring for the twin daughters every morning until Jessie and Juliet weighed 2.5 kg each.
“It looks like people in my area have never seen a man practicing the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) because we most of the times see only women doing it,” said Phiri.
“But,” he said, “I felt it was important to help my wife as she prepared the other children for school. I am the father of the children,” he said.
Joseph and Doreen had a fair share of insults for giving birth to premature babies, but the development did not demoralise the two—who kept carrying their babies on their chests as per doctors’ advice—in an effort to save the babies’ lives.
“When my wife asked me to help her carry the babies on my chest, I felt demoralised. At first, I thought I couldn’t do it, but realising that I was the father of the twins, I asked my wife to teach me how to do it. Before long, I got used to it and did it every morning before going to my business,” said Phiri.
It all started on August 14 2014, when Phiri’s wife started experiencing abdominal pains.
Since she was in her seventh month of pregnancy, Doreen, who is a mother of five, thought it was just one of the pains that come with pregnancy.
“Being an experienced mother who had by then given birth thrice, I ruled out labour pains at that stage. To me, it was just mere pain and I started off to the hospital to seek medical attention,” she said.
To her surprise, when she reached Mchinji District Hospital, she was told what she was experiencing were labour pains.
“The nurse on duty told me that I was in labour. A few hours later, I delivered a set of pre-term twin girls,” said Phiri.
The newborns weighed 800 and 900 grammes which, according to Mchinji District Hospital maternity nurse in charge, TemwananiMsango, were abnormal weights. Msango said minimum weight of a newborn is 2.5 kilogrammes.
She said the 800 and 900 grammes for Phiri’s babies, automatically required Kangaroo Mother Care method if they were to survive.
“After delivery, I was advised to go with the babies to the KMC Ward, where I was told to carry the babies on my bare chest to allow skin-to-skin contact between me and the babies,” explained Phiri.
She was supposed to do that right from their birth and continuously—day and night. Being twins and being her first experience was an experience in itself.
“It was so difficult in the first place because I had to carry both of them on my chest day in, day out. But as time passed by, I got used and the babies started gaining some weight. We used to do it together with my husband who has been supportive all the time,” she said.
Msango said KMC has the potential to save lives because it regulates the baby’s temperature, breathing and also promotes breast-feeding and encourages mother and child bonding.
Phiri was discharged after a month. By then, the babies weighed less than 1.5 kg each, which was still on the lower side.
“When we see that the mother is adhering to what she is recommended to do, we discharge them when the babies weigh at least 1.5 kg and advise them to keep on practising KMC at home. They are also required to visit the nearest hospital once a week for check-up,” said Msango.
Phiri was discharged in September 2014 when her babies weighed 1.1kg each.
“I continued doing the same at home. When I wanted to prepare the other children for school, I put them under my husband’s care until I were free,” said Phiri.
Months passed by and the couple continued with the method until the babies weighed 2.5 kg and the doctors told her to stop practising KMC.
At seven months, Phiri’s twins weighed 4.4kg and 4.8kg respectively and they gracefully named them Jessie and Julliet.
Jessie and Juliet are a few of many babies that have been saved through KMC at Mchinji District Hospital.
Mchinji District Hospital nursing officer (DNO), Emmanuel Mpoola, told Malawi News Agency (Mana) that from January 2014 to January 2015, the hospital registered 35 pre-term babies with low birth weight out of which 33 survived.
“Looking at the rate at which we were previously losing the newborns, we decided to engage an extra gear by allocating a nurse for the KMC Ward. The situation has drastically improved since then,” said Mpoola.
According to Mpoola, since February 2014 when a nurse for the KMC ward was allocated, it was only in October 2014 when the hospital lost two pre-term babies out of 20 registered that month.
Mpoola partly attributed pre-term and low birth weight in the country’s hospitals to poor nutrition and stress during pregnancy.
“We have not yet researched to find out what causes this, but we just feel those are some of the factors leading to this,” he said.
Mpoola said it was pleasing to note that most women that have delivered pre- term babies are adhering to the KMC method, a development he said is contributing to their efforts of saving lives of new born babies in the district.
Mpoola, however, said there is need for hospitals that are practising KMC to introduce entertainment in the KMC wards such as TVs and others as a way of entertaining mothers because the method can be tiresome sometimes.
“The mother is supposed to carry the baby on her chest round the clock and most of the times they sit in the same position for a long time, it is tiresome. Sometimes they go out, but they don’t take long,” he said.
The hospital’s focal person for KMC, Yacinta Nkhata, said the hospital is promoting KMC because it is the cheapest way of reducing child mortality.
“Some years back we used to have incubators which were used for pre-term new-borns, but they are expensive. KMC is costless and does not require controlling the temperature. Another good thing is that it promotes bonding between the child and the mother,” said Nkhata.
She said although the hospital has registered success, some women still abscond and go home without the hospital’s approval.
Community mobilisation and advocacy officer for Parent and Child Health Initiative (Pachi), Austin Njera, commended Mchinji District Hospital for its efforts in saving the lives of pre-term babies.
“It is our wish to a have a country where no pre-term child dies. We know if we work together we can do it,” said Njera.
Pachi is a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) which works to improve maternal and child health through sustainable innovation and evidence-based programmes and interventions, capacity building and research.
History has it that the KMC method started in Colombia in the 1970s.