VIDEO: Premature baby program to expand across B.C.

New funding will go toward skin-to-skin therapy that helps with breastfeeding and reducing anxiety

Amid decades of advancing technology in the health sector across North America, a back-to-basics therapy program that connects newborn babies to their mothers – literally – will expand across B.C. in hopes of helping families get back to the comfort of their homes sooner after birth.

The B.C. government announced $500,000 on Wednesday in Vancouver, earmarked to broaden a skin-to-skin attachment program called Kangaroo Mother Care to hospitals all over the province.

The approach is rather simple, and one that has been used across the world to mirror the technology now found in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU.

It involves placing a baby, wearing only a diaper, on the chest of one of the parents or other family members, then securing the pair in a wrap to keep them tightly together for a minimum of 90 minutes.

“This very high quality, but low-tech intervention, can be practiced anywhere in the hospitals and at home,” Dr. Tamil Kendall, provincial executive director of Perinatal Services BC, said. “It puts mothers at the centre of the care.”

READ: New B.C. acute care centre opens for young patients, expectant mothers

It’s intended to help with cognitive development and breastfeeding in newborns and fragile premature babies, and combats anxiety believed to be caused by separation. It’s also believed to help prevent postpartum depression in mothers.

The program has been used at the BC Women’s Hospital and Health Care Centre in Vancouver for the past five years, with many positive results.

Families in the Interior, the North and the Kootenays will especially beneift, Kendra said, becuase they often have to travel great lengths to receive necessary care during a high-risk or premature birth.

Some mothers in Nelson have to travel to Kelowna, she said, for their babies to remain in the NICU for weeks.

“For those of us that come from rural and remote areas, that’s can be really important to be able to go home a week or two early.”

Skin-to-skin bonding ‘empowering’ for moms

About 5,000 babies are born prematurely in B.C. each year. They are especially at risk for hearing loss, vision problems, behavioural problems and neurological disorders.

For Vancouver resident Gina Chung and her son, Forrest Gregg, the Kangaroo Care program has allowed them to move past the scary experience of an emergency C-section and develop a symbiotic bond, simply through him resting on her chest.

“I had to do skin-to-skin right away,” Chung said. “I find for bonding it’s just so powerful. As a new mother, you’re already so anxious, but being able to have him right on my chest really calms me down and calms him down.”

Program to roll out as early as summer 2018

The provincial funding will pay for training and equipment for hospitals of all sizes.

Health authorities are currently being asked to take part in a review process, expected to be completed by March, to determine which hospitals will get the new program.

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