International Kangaroo Care Day: An Interview with Dr. Nils Bergman

 

In just two months, Dr. Nils Bergman, one of the world’s experts on the impact of skin-to-skin contact between an infant and their new family, will present at TOGETHER: Changing YOUR Community and the World, ILCA’s annual conference, in Portland, Oregon, United States, which will be held 18 – 21 July. Attendees at both our in-person and virtual conferences will be able to hear his presentation Skin-to-Skin Contact: Current Research and Mediating Mechanisms.

Dr. Bergman, who has shared his expertise on six continents, worked with Midwife Agneta Jurisoo in Zimbabwe to develop and implement Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) for premature infants right from birth. This resulted in a five-fold improvement in survival of very low birth weight babies. He introduced KMC to South Africa in 1995, and after 5 years, KMC became official policy for care of premature infants in the hospitals of the Western Cape province. Dr Bergman continues to live and work in Cape Town as a Consulting Public Health Physician. He is also an Honorary Research Associate at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.

In celebration of International Kangaroo Care Awareness Day, celebrated this year on 15 May, we’ve reached out to find out more about what drew Dr. Bergman to this work, why skin-to-skin contact is critical for infants, and what we can look forward to in his presentation.

 

Lactation Matters (LM): How did you come to be interested in early skin-to-skin contact between infants and their parents?

Nils Bergman (NB): Way back in 1988, I began working in a remote mission hospital in a low income country, with no incubators or realistic means to transfer small babies for care. We had learnt of Kangaroo Mother Method before we came. Since we had no incubators to stabilise babies, we started skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth. We saw a startling difference, instead of taking 6 days to stabilise, it took 6 hours. And we lowered mortality by 40%. The small babies had clear personas, rather than seemingly amorphous immature protoplasm.

 

(LM): Why is this such a critical issue for those who support new families to understand?

(NB): Perhaps it was an accidental discovery, but what we have to understand is that skin-to-skin contact is NORMAL, normal biology and part of reproductive fitness. Worse: separating mothers from babies is actually harmful. Toxic stress is defined as the ‘absence of buffering protection of adult support’, and this applies to premature babies more, not less. And it is very much a ‘family’ thing, the family fabric may also be adversely affected.

 

(LM): What new research or new techniques are you MOST excited to share with us in July?

(NB) Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have funded a multicentre study, being conducted by WHO in Ghana, India, Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania. We will randomise 4200 babies weighing between 1000g and 1800g to normal care in warmers and compare them to the same normal care in “Immediate KMC”.

Want to learn more? Join us for #ILCA18!

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