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

By Judith Robb-McCord, Every Preemie Director; and Elimase Kamanga, Every Preemie Technical Advisor, PCI

Today, as we celebrate International Day of the Midwife, thousands of families in Malawi recognize and applaud the important contributions midwives have made for improved maternal, newborn and child health.

Over the past 15 years and as part of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), midwives have worked closely with local health care providers and communities to significantly reduce child mortality. Malawi is only one of a handful of countries to boast this achievement. And yet, newborn deaths remain quite high.

Every Preemie Malawi

Globally, 15 million babies are born every year preterm–born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed. And approximately one million babies die due to complications related to early birth. Complications related to preterm birth are the greatest cause of deaths among children under five in the world.

The significant number of babies in Malawi who are born too small—below 2,500 grams— also contribute to high mortality. The country also has the highest incidence of preterm birth, babies born too soon, in the world.

Every Preemie—SCALE, a USAID-funded program with multiple implementing partners, is working with the Ministry of Health in Malawi, to empower local professional associations, NGOs, civil society groups, community leaders and health care professionals to build services for improved health among pregnant women and early/small newborns.

Many families and caretakers 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, such as Kangaroo Mother Care, to improve newborn survival.

Kangaroo Mother Care keeps babies warm with skin-to-skin contact with their mothers, fathers and other caretakers. Midwives support mothers and families who have early and small babies by teaching them how to safely use Kangaroo Mother Care. This practice ensures that these vulnerable newborns get the warmth, food and care they need to survive and thrive. Malawi is well known for its Kangaroo Mother Care units, currently operating in more than 122 health facilities in the country.

Along with Kangaroo Mother Care, midwives promote and support the prevention of preterm birth through quality antenatal care by ensuring good nutrition throughout pregnancy, and screening for related risk factors such as prior preterm birth, malaria, urinary tract infections, HIV and pregnancy at an early age.

Midwives also are 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 recognize when a newborn is born too soon or too small and can begin critical early care including referral to more advanced or specialized care.

Mothers Every Preemie

Every Preemie—SCALE supports the integration of care for early and small babies into existing community health programs, as well as working with the Ministry of Health to design and launch a new facility model for family-led care. The family-led care package will empower women and their families to care for their small and vulnerable babies both at the health center and in their homes.

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, please thank a midwife for her service and dedication to Malawi’s families and to a healthy future for the country.

Every Preemie—SCALE (Scaling, Catalyzing, Advocating, Learning and Evidence-Driven) is a USAID-funded program implemented by Project Concern International (PCI), the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS) and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), that provides practical, catalytic and scalable approaches to expand the uptake of preterm birth and low birth weight interventions in 23 USAID priority countries in Africa and Asia.