Caring ‘hands’ for a newborn child

Newborn deaths may result from early separation from the mother after birth

By Precious B. Llasos

Cuddly, soft-skinned, bouncy, healthy. These are our expected traits of a baby after birth. Unfortunately, in many instances, the “hands” which are supposed to take good care of the baby may lack the proper training, knowledge and skills to care for the newborn.

Based on the report of the World Health Organization, a newborn baby dies every minute in the Western Pacific Region that is largely due to inappropriate clinical practices at the time of birth, and during the first few days of the babies’ lives.

The major cause of newborn deaths is early separation of a baby from his mother after birth. Rising to 13 percent of newborns are separated from their mothers who do not completely get the benefits from skin-to-skin contact which may expose the baby to hypothermia and hospital-acquired infections.

Other than these, babies are often given infant formula instead of breast milk, which increases the risk of infection, malnutrition and death.

WHO said that newborn deaths are often preventable.

Eliminating harmful perinatal practices

WHO presented a simple solution to reduce the increasing number of newborn deaths, Early Essential Newborn Care (EENC) is WHO’s helpful key that aims to focus on eradicating harmful and outdated childbirth, newborn and postpartum practices in the first 24 hours of life and replace them with evidence-based practices.

Moreover, EENC is a set of simple and cost-effective interventions that benefit all newborns including those that are sick, and those born preterm or by caesarean section.

First Embrace

Part of the EENC is the First Embrace where the mother and the baby embrace each other to have a protective and prolonged skin-toskin cuddle which allows proper warming, feeding, and cord care.

First embrace is composed of four key steps:

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Kangaroo Mother Care

Along with the First Embrace, Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) improves the health of both preterm and low birth weight infants through prolonged and continuous skin-to-skin contact. It can be first done in hospital and can be maintained at home with proper support and followup.

Furthermore, fathers too can provide skin-to-skin contact through KMC.

Aside from promoting KMC, exclusive breastfeeding is highly recommended. Ideally, the infant only receives breast milk without drinking any additional food or drink, not even water, for his first six months. It protects the baby from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia, and helps for a quicker recovery after an illness. It also strengthens the baby’s immune system, and provides effective thermal control which reduces the risk of hypothermia.

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When and where does EENC start?

In 2013, Member States approved the Action Plan for Healthy Newborn Infants inthe Western Pacific Region (2014-2020), and committed to improve the quality of care for mothers and newborns in health facilities throughout the region including scaling support in EENC. And it has been introduced in 17 countries in Western Pacific Region.

The First Embrace campaign was launched in Manila in March 2015 to mobilize public and political support for EENC. Around 96 percent of neonatal deaths in the Western Pacific Region have been recorded in eight priority countries namely Cambodia, China, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Vietnam.

After it began in 2017, First Embrace has expanded to other countries outside the Western Pacific Region.

EENC has now helped over 30,000 health workers from 2,522 health facilities to improve the quality of care they provide for newborns.

As of now, 75 percent of newborns are now receiving immediate skin-to-skin contact and 85 percent of newborns are exclusively breastfed in the days following delivery.

As a result, there are 4 million babies whose newborn care have now been improved through the lending “hands” of EENC.