WHO Campaigns for Immediate Skin-to-Skin Care for Babies Born Prematurely

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised that premature babies should be given skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth to improve their survival and health outcomes.

WHO said this process with a caregiver, known as kangaroo mother care, should start immediately after birth, without any initial period in an incubator.

This is a step away from the standard clinical process and lets caregivers and their pre-term babies stay close without being separated after birth.

The Medical Officer for Newborn Health at WHO, Dr Karen Edmond, stressed that “The first embrace with a parent is not only emotionally essential but also critical for improving chances of survival and health outcomes for small and premature babies.

“Through COVID-19 times, we know that many women were unnecessarily separated from their babies, which could be catastrophic for the health of babies born early or small. These new guidelines stress the need to provide care for families and pre-term babies together as a unit and ensure parents get the best possible support through what is often a uniquely stressful and anxious time.

“Pre-term or premature babies are babies born early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy or small with low birth-weight, less than 2.5kg at birth.

“Annually, an estimated 15 million babies are born prematurely. That is more than 1 in 10 of all births globally. Those babies can survive, but that depends on where they are born.” 

According to WHO, premature babies born at or after 28 weeks in rich countries mostly survive, while in poorer countries, survival rates can be as low as 10%.


The UN Agency’s guidelines indicate a rise in the number of premature babies, making prematurity a leading cause of death of children under five and an urgent public health issue.

In the same vein, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus added that Preterm babies could survive, thrive, and change the world – but each baby must be given that chance. 

“These guidelines show that improving outcomes for these tiny babies are not always about providing the most high-tech solutions, but rather ensuring access to essential healthcare centred around the needs of families.

“The guidelines also provide recommendations to ensure emotional, financial and workplace support for families of very small and pre-term babies, who can face extraordinary stress and hardship because of intensive care-giving demands and anxieties around their babies’ health.

“The guidelines, which were released ahead of World Prematurity Day, observed every November 17 emphasize breastfeeding to improve health outcomes for pre-term and low birth weight babies, saying it reduces infection risks compared to infant formula.

“It further recommends increased emotional and financial support for caregivers. And advocate for parental leave to help families care for the infant, the guidelines state. At the same time, government and regulatory policies and entitlements should ensure families of pre-term and low birth weight babies receive sufficient financial and workplace support.”

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