Increasingly in Botswana, the wondrous occasion of becoming a mother is being complicated by rising numbers of premature births, in which the little ones are at risk of various conditions. Mmegi Correspondent, NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE speaks with the brave mothers.
Worldwide, it is estimated 15 million babies are born preterm each year, with at least one million of those dying annually due to the inherent complications of prematurity. At Princess Marina Hospital, the public health sector’s main referral centre, 1,291 of the 7,145 children born in 2015 were premature. Premature babies not only face higher risks of illness, but even when they survive, they are at greater risk of developing chronic ailments.
In Botswana, 40% of infant mortality is attributed to neonatal mortality or deaths occurring within the first 28 days of life. Goitseone Motaung is a young, proud mother of a handsome four-year-old boy. Junior was born when his mother was seven months pregnant.
Recently, Motaung opened up about the traumatising period, volunteering to share the experience at the World Prematurity Day Commemoration in Gaborone.
“My son weighed 1.1 kilogrammes when I gave birth to him. I was shocked and scared. I couldn’t remember what happened. I was shocked and terrified at the same time when I visited my son at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“He was very tiny. The beeps of the machines terrified me the most,” she said. Speaking with her four-year-old next to her, Motaung encouraged mothers with preterm children never to give up as the children would need special care to live and grow. “My son was very sensitive and constantly fell sick. I, however, did not lose hope as I was determined to save him and see him grow.
“I spent sleepless nights caring and breastfeeding him. I literarily became a nurse by observing how the nurses took care of my son. “In fact, I graduated from being a nurse to a doctor because I was determined to learn and care for my boy. I spent three months with him in Marina and that time was awesome because as I learnt a lot from the health officers who were very kind and helped me wholeheartedly.”
The young mother encouraged parents in similar situations to always ensure that their children are kept warm as any cool or cold breeze could result in sickness, adding that preterm babies required round the clock monitoring.
Princess Marina’s head of paediatrics, Dr Loeto Mazhani challenges men to support their wives or girlfriends during pregnancy to reduce or avoid complications during the term.
“Pregnancy is a very delicate stage where women need support from their partners, spouses and family members. When a mother gives birth too soon, it is very important for the father of the child to give her necessary support, and this is good for both the mother and child.”
The local public health sector is not sitting by and simply bemoaning preterm births. At the recent commemoration, acting assistant health and wellness minister, Dikgang Makgalemele, said interventions such as antenatal care, safe motherhood initiatives, skilled manpower and infrastructure were on the frontline of helping preterm babies grow into healthy children and adults.
“It is vital that we scale up key interventions,” he said. “These include prevention of adolescent pregnancy, improved care during pregnancy, skilled delivery, early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding. In addition, we need early post-natal care as well as management of preterm complications.”
The ministry is advocating for kangaroo mother care, a method of care for preterm infants.
The World Health Organisation describes kangaroo mother care as involving “infants being carried, usually by the mother, with skin-to-skin contact”. Other experts say kangaroo care seeks “to provide restored closeness of the newborn with family members by placing the infant in direct skin-to-skin contact with one of them”. “This ensures physiological and psychological warmth and bonding. The parent’s stable body temperature helps to regulate the neonate’s (preterm’s) temperature more smoothly than an incubator, and allows for readily accessible breastfeeding when the mother holds the baby this way.”
At Princess Marina, authorities are also doing their part. The hospital receives the highest number of pregnant mothers in the country, a situation driving overcrowding. Princess Marina superintendent, Dr Kelebogile Motumise said the hospital had found a way out of the situation.
“To reduce overcrowding, we stabilise the neonates and send them to Scottish Livingstone Hospital,” he told the commemoration.
“Currently we have 56 neonates in the special baby care unit.”
The facilities, care and various programmes are aimed at coping with the rising incidence of premature births. Health authorities want to restore beauty of pregnancy, ease the worries of mothers and enhances the chances of a healthy future for babies. Giving birth early should not be a one-way road to ill health or worse.