The beat­ing heart of Kala­fong’s baby ward

CityPress - - News - YOLANDI GROE­NEWALD yolandi.groe­newald@city­press.co.za

There is a quiet seren­ity in Ward 4 at the Kala­fong Hos­pi­tal in At­teridgeville, Pre­to­ria, even though it houses 20 new­borns and their mums. Kala­fong’s kan­ga­roo ba­bies are sound asleep in their pouches. All of the ba­bies were ei­ther born below av­er­age birth weight – less than 2.5kg – or pre­ma­turely, and would usu­ally be con­fined to in­cu­ba­tors away from their moth­ers.

But Dr Elise van Rooyen, the head of the hos­pi­tal’s Kan­ga­roo Mother Care Unit, is work­ing hard to change this way of do­ing things.

She is cham­pi­oning her cause through her re­search at the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria, train­ing other state hos­pi­tals to also be­come kan­ga­roo-care friendly.

“Lis­ten,” she says. “Our ba­bies al­most never cry. They are at peace.”

Van Rooyen and her team have been op­er­at­ing the kan­ga­roo care unit since 1999 at Kala­fong. In that time, 5 600 vul­ner­a­ble new­borns have gone through the ward, and only 44 have died.

Van Rooyen says 44% of those 5 600 were high-risk ba­bies who weighed less than 1.5kg.

Cor­nelia Ngo­mane said both she and her son Banele love kan­ga­roo care. Le­andi van der Linde’s sec­ond son, Janko, is much more re­laxed than her el­dest, de­spite his lower birth weight.

“This has been a much more tran­quil ex­pe­ri­ence for us both,” said Van der Linde. “As long as my kan­ga­roo baby is ly­ing on my breast, he is happy.” Moth­ers have their own eat­ing hall and lounge, and don’t leave the ward un­til their baby is dis­charged.

An­nah Bonok­wane and An­gel have been res­i­dents of Ward 4 for 99 days.

An­gel weighed just 700g at birth when Bonok­wane gave birth at 27 weeks on May 6.

“I was an­gry and scared at first when she was born,” Bonok­wane said, swad­dling An­gel in her spe­cial Thari wrap.

An­gel is al­most chubby now, weigh­ing in at 2.8kg. “This has helped me with bond­ing with my baby. I have this won­der­ful feel­ing. I was taught all these great things and my baby is strong.”

Van Rooyen de­signed the low-cost Thari wrap in 2003 for South Africa’s kan­ga­roo mums. The baby is po­si­tioned be­tween the mother’s breasts and tied di­rectly to her – skin on skin. The mother’s skin, un­like the rough linen of an in­cu­ba­tor, serves as a bi­o­log­i­cal mem­brane.

“The mother’s skin mois­turises the baby’s skin, pre­vent­ing it from dry­ing out, and de­creases the chances of bac­te­ria en­ter­ing the skin,” says Van Rooyen. “There are bac­te­ria that live in sym­bio­sis on the mother’s skin. These bac­te­ria colonise the baby’s skin and pro­tect it from patho­log­i­cal and harm­ful bac­te­ria.”

Pre­ma­ture ba­bies are nor­mally re­moved from their moth­ers as soon as they’re born and their tiny bod­ies are ex­posed to all kinds of in­va­sive pro­ce­dures, in­clud­ing a painful drip.

Ev­ery four hours, a nurse comes to check the ba­bies’ blood-glu­cose lev­els with a heel prick.

“This is all very trau­matic for a new­born, snugly cud­dled in its mother’s womb up to now,” said Van Rooyen.

“These ba­bies can ex­pe­ri­ence se­vere pain, for in­stance from soft stroking on the skin. The high stress lev­els that con­tinue with­out a pause have a very harm­ful ef­fect on the ba­bies’ devel­op­ment.”

By con­trast, the kan­ga­roo care ba­bies are fed breast milk ei­ther di­rectly, or through a cup. Breast-feed­ing is cen­tral to the health of kan­ga­roo care ba­bies, Van Rooyen ex­plains.

The ba­bies hear their moth­ers’ heart­beat, as it sounded while in the womb.

Van Rooyen says in­fec­tion rates go down with the method as well, with ba­bies less ex­posed to the nasty bugs that of­ten roam in hos­pi­tals.

Ba­bies are also dis­charged ear­lier if they are healthy, even if they still have a low weight.

Even though Kan­ga­roo Mother Care works best with mums, fathers can also par­tic­i­pate to give moth­ers a break.

MOTHER’S TOUCH An­nah Bonok­wane and her baby, who was born pre­ma­turely and is be­ing treated at Kala­fong Hos­pi­tal’s Kan­ga­roo Mother Care Unit

PHO­TOS: MUNTU VI­LAKAZI

SAV­ING LIVES Dr Elise van Rooyen, the head of the hos­pi­tal’s Kan­ga­roo Mother Care Unit

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