|By Annete Karanja|
The sound of a beeping microwave alerts you when your food is ready. That same kind of beep can be nothing but torment to a mother of a preterm baby (a baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed). Such sounds echo their journey in neonatal intensive care units where their babies depended on life support machines for survival. No mother should experience that; but many do, have conquered and continue to. One such enduring lady is Ruby Kimondo, an administrator in the Strathmore Mentoring department and mother of four children, three of whom were born prematurely. Preemie Love – her foundation – provides support to mothers of babies born prematurely while at the hospital but more so when they are back home.
What are some of the challenges mothers of preemies face?
These mums experience a lot of anxiety, especially first-time mums with no prior experience in the care of a baby, let alone a preemie. They have been through an unusual pregnancy and birth that the majority of their peers and surrounding community cannot relate to, and find themselves at pains to manage the physical, psychological and financial toll that a complicated pregnancy brings.
Preemies calls for extra care and attention too, compared to babies born full-term (40 weeks). For example, due to their delicate nature, infections are common as their immunity is compromised. Limiting the baby’s exposure to guests for up to 6 months is in some cases necessary. Breastfeeding can be particularly challenging as these babies tire easily while suckling because their mouth muscles are weak. Mums often have to top up breastfeeding with cup feeding to ensure their babies get enough milk. Inadequate feeding may lead to dehydration and in some instances fatal outcomes like renal failure. Other challenges the mums deal with include societal stigma rooted in ignorance because of lack of public awareness on the causes of preterm birth. Many mums have felt condemned and ostracized. They have been blamed for not being able to carry a pregnancy to term. They have been faulted for the low weights of their babies, and delayed developmental milestones that are typical of most preemies.
So why beanie hats?
Preemies have less fat on their body making it more difficult to stay warm. Beanies help prevent heat loss through their heads and provide the extra help they need to stay warm. Crocheting beanie hats are a way of showing love practically to babies born prematurely.
What are some of the steps you have taken to ensure the preemie moms get the psychosocial support they need?
We have an outreach programme that constitutes volunteer mothers reaching out to new mothers through hospital and home visits, and have formed communities of support on WhatsApp. One of the hospitals where we have established regular outreach is the Kenyatta National Hospital New Born Unit. When we interact with the mums, we share our own experiences and encourage them to share theirs as well. We listen and attend to their questions and concerns. We gift them with beanies, diapers and any other donated baby items that we have managed to collect. We share practical tips and information on how to take care of their babies and themselves.
More than that, we have amplified our voices to create public awareness on prematurity. This is through sharing our stories through the media and our own spaces on social media, and working collaboratively with Ministry of Health and other partners in maternal and newborn health in commemorating World Prematurity Day every year on November 17th.
It is estimated that 134,500 babies are born prematurely in Kenya every year. (WHO, UNICEF 2016). Kenya is considered to be one of the leading countries in the number of preterm babies across the world and is positioned 15 globally. Most of these preterm babies are born with health complications that lead to the death of at least 8300 babies annually. Preemie Love mums feel this burden of prematurity in our country and take it as our duty to help as many fellow mums as possible to navigate their experiences with hope and not despair.
Besides my family and mentoring students, I have found another avenue for happiness by being there for another mum through Preemie Love. I believe we can all find a void in society to fill. What is that one challenge that you overcame and can be used to help others overcome the same?