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Midwives Offer Helping Hands to Ensure Early and Small Babies Survive and Thrive

May 5—Today, as we celebrate International Day of the Midwife, thousands of families in Malawi recognize the important contributions midwives have made for improved maternal, newborn and child health. In partnership with other health care providers and communities, midwives helped Malawi reduce child mortality over the past fifteen years as part of the Millennium Development Goals. Malawi is only one of a handful of countries to boast this achievement. Yet, newborn deaths remain quite high in Malawi.

Globally, every year fifteen million babies are born preterm (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed) and approximately one million die due to complications related to early birth. Currently, complications related to preterm birth are the greatest cause of deaths among children under five in the world. In addition, babies who are born too small—below 2500 grams—also contribute to high child mortality. Malawi has the highest incidence of preterm birth, babies born too soon, in the world. There are also a significant number of babies who are born too small.

The Ministry of Health is working with professional associations, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups, community leaders and health care professionals to build services for improved health among pregnant women and newborns. Many families and care takers believe that babies born too soon or too small can’t survive. The good news is that most early and small babies can survive with basic, essential care including warming through skin-to-skin contact, breast feeding support and the prevention of infections.

Midwives are well placed to support mothers and families with early and small babies to use simple and effective low cost interventions to improve newborn survival. Malawi is well known for its Kangaroo Mother Care units, currently operating in more than 122 health facilities in the country. Kangaroo Mother Care ensures that early and small babies are kept warm with skin-to-skin contact with their mothers, fathers and other care takers. Midwives support mothers and families who have early and small babies to learn how to safely practice Kangaroo Mother Care to ensure that these vulnerable newborns get the warmth, food and care they need to survive and thrive.

Midwives also promote and support the prevention of preterm birth through quality antenatal care including good nutrition throughout pregnancy, screening for related risk factors such as prior preterm birth, malaria, urinary tract infections, HIV and pregnancy at an early age. Midwives are also important providers during labor and delivery. They are trained to recognize preterm labor and to provide life-saving care to mothers and their early babies. Midwives also recognize when a newborn is born too soon or too small and can begin important early care including referral to more advanced or specialized care.

Malawi’s health care professionals provide essential care every day to promote the health and well-being of the country’s most precious commodity—its newborns. Today, in celebration of International Day of the Midwife, take a midwife’s hands into yours and thank her for her service to Malawi’s families and future.

About the authors: Judith Robb-McCord and Elimase Kamanga are the Director and Technical Advisor, respectively, of Every Preemie—SCALE, a USAID-funded project working with national stakeholders and the Ministry of Health in Balaka District to prevent and care for early and small babies. For more information on Every Preemie—SCALE, visit

Posted By Michele Lunsford | 5/5/2016 10:19:48 AM



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