Keeping a Baby Close to Your Heart

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Save the Children Malawi raises awareness for KMC on World Prematurity Day 2016

Imagine spending at least 20 hours a day 7 days a week with a baby strapped to your chest.  Imagine you must eat, sleep, work and care for your other children with a tiny baby depending on your continuous skin-to-skin contact for survival.

This is the basis of Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), a cost effective intervention to help meet a premature, low-birth-weight baby’s basic needs for warmth, nutrition, stimulation and protection from infection. Following the KMC process, parents of newborn baby’s weighing 2000 grams or less at birth are encouraged to provide continuous skin-to-skin contact with the baby for at least 20 hours every day with exclusive breastfeeding. 

In Malawi, a country with the highest preterm birth rate in the world – 18 preterm births per 100 live births – KMC is a critical lifesaving intervention.  Despite this, too few premature babies receive KMC due to lack of awareness, limited resources, and cultural stigma against both the practice and premature/low-birth-weight infants. As a result, direct complications of preterm birth are the second leading cause of child deaths after pneumonia and result in more than 14 newborn deaths every day in Malawi.

To commemorate this year’s World Prematurity Day on 17 November, Save the Children staff in Malawi aimed to champion KMC by accepting the KMC Challenge.  Through this challenge, participants practiced KMC with a baby doll for 24 hours – holding the doll throughout work hours, around town and home for the night. The same effort was done by other partners across the country and globe. 

“I have a passion for every child to survive,” said Mavis Khondiwa, a Grants Coordinator for Save the Children US projects.  “Through this challenge I could understand what kind of burden those mothers with premature babies face. I really feel for them.”

Over the course of the day, 20 men and women got a glimpse into the life of a mother with a premature baby and all the issues it presents. “Through what I experienced as a man doing the challenge, I think women need more help,” said Nyashadzashe Kaunda, an Awards Management Officer.  “Men should also be taking care of the child and helping throughout the whole KMC process,” he explained. 

At the end of the 24 hours, colleagues returned the dolls and resumed their normal lives.  For women around the country, it isn’t so easy and their child’s life depends on their continued commitment to practice KMC until the baby reaches a healthy birthweight.  In a country where neonatal mortality accounts for 40% of all under 5 deaths, it is everyone’s responsibility to champion KMC, not just once a year for World Prematurity Day but every day. 

“Looking at the conditions of hospitals in Malawi we don’t have enough incubators so we encourage mothers to practice KMC” said Jessie Lwanda, IT Coordinator.  “By doing this challenge, we are saying let’s give these babies a chance to survive by showing them love and carrying them close to our heart.”

Save the Children is committed to improving newborn health in Malawi by shifting norms around the value of newborns through a government supported social and behavior change communication (SBCC) campaign called Khanda ndi Mphatso (A Baby is a Gift: Give it a Chance). In addition to this campaign, Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives (SNL) project is promoting KMC by working to establish KMC sites of excellence in four district hospitals and collaborating with the Ministry of Health’s Centre for Monitoring and Evaluation Department (CMED) to develop a national routine reporting system for KMC services in Malawian health facilities.

Join Save the Children in raising awareness for the 15 million babies born prematurely in 2015 and the lifesaving care they deserve.  Read below to hear what other’s said about undertaking the KMC Challenge and follow #KMCchallenge on social media to hear stories from around the world.


Kondwani Chavula, MEAL Coordinator for SNL

“I picked up the challenge but now, just 1 hour in and I am really feeling it. I feel for these women. It is really tough for them.” 

Martin Tembo, Program Manager, SNIC
“I’ve been impressed and touched by how much mothers go through to keep the babies warm and ensure room for them to survive.  I think they require a lot of support from their families. I personally experienced this and now I know it isn’t easy.”

Mavis Khondiwa, Grants Coordinator for SC US projects

“I undertook the challenge so that when I am encouraging the mothers I can have an idea how it feels to carry a baby with you the whole day. It wasn’t easy. You are uncomfortable and limited in what you can do. But if this were a real baby the only comfort you have is knowing you are doing it for the life of a child and you have this baby always next to you so the bond can be stronger and a good comfort to the baby. I had to go to the bank and it was a mixed reaction. People didn’t understand. I explained about KMC and that it is not something that is supposed to be shaming. You are trying to save a life. We need to support the mothers and give them what they need so the baby can survive.”

Fidelis Banda, Assistant Accountant

“When I went to the bank people were staring and asking why I was carrying around a doll. I said that we were campaigning for Kangaroo Mother Care and that it is a way we take care of premature babies.”

Enisa Sande, GHC Fellow/MEAL Officer

“I took the KMC Challenge because I wanted to know how it felt of have a baby on your chest for a whole day.  The first few hours were amazing but I didn’t last the whole 24 hours.  By 8pm I was tired and hot. It was hard work with the baby but a great experience to learn.” 

Lydia Chimtembo, MNH Specialist, SNL

“This was an intensive experience and honestly, these women, they have problems and that is the reason they need continuous support. It’s tiresome and you can’t do it alone all through the process.  I really felt for the women because we usually ask them to do it continuously and sometimes without a helper and in a very hot room.  I learned that these women need continuous counseling and support.”

Jessie Lwanda, IT Coordinator

“It is a big challenge. Normally we take it as an option for these preterm babies. We say, OK we don’t have an incubator so we encourage the mom to follow the KMC process. But when I took the challenge, I realized it is not as easy as you think. You are looking at a woman from the village who has to cook, look for water and go to the market, all with the baby. For the challenge, it was just a doll but when it is people are looking at the mother wondering why she is carrying such a small baby. They wonder what is wrong with her.  We are raising awareness about premature babies and that if given the chance, they can survive.  I look at the conditions of the hospitals in Malawi, you will see that we don’t have enough incubators so we encourage mothers to practice KMC keeping skin-to-skin contact to help the baby grow, feel the mother’s heat and bond with the mother.  We are saying let’s give the baby a chance – that is the campaign we are raising not just here in Malawi but globally. We have to change our culture where people see a premature baby and say it can’t survive so just leave it.”

Esnat Mkandawire, New Business Development Specialist

“Today is World Prematurity Day so Save the Children was raising awareness on the importance of KMC.  I felt for the mothers who really have a burden when they have premature babies because all the time they have the baby attached to them.”

Elizabeth Guzalo, Finance and Grants Officer

“I now understand that it is not an easy job because there were so many disturbances. And I know it is not even as difficult because it is a doll and not as heavy as a real baby and not crying.  I know better understand what KMC is about and when I told people about it they should they would help to advocate for mothers to complete KMC.” 

Olive Chibwana, EC-SRH Meal Coordinator

“Prematurity is a big issue and we have to care for babies even if they are born premature.  At first the challenge was easy but then I felt like I had no space. At night I wanted to stop but I knew I had committed to take the 24 hour challenge.”

Cecilia Banda, Accounts Assistant

“People were very surprised when I told them I was doing the KMC challenge to experience how mothers treat premature babies and have to manage all day with the baby. It was hard.”

Nyashadzashe Kaunda, Awards Management Officer

“Through what I went through, I think women need more support. The man should be taking care of the child too and helping out through the whole KMC process.”


Written by Alicia Adler, Program Officer, Global Health Corps Fellow