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Skin-on-skin effort aims to cut newborn deaths

By Shan Juan (China Daily) Updated: 2015-11-09 07:53

A social media campaign has been launched in China to cut down the number of newborn babies who die in the first 24 hours of life.

The campaign, called First Embrace, promotes skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby immediately after birth, a practice proven to keep the baby warm and help it to fight infections.

There are 16 million babies born in China each year, and approximately 150,000 of them die before they reach one month of age. Of that number, half die in the first 24 hours of life, which is the category targeted by the World Health Organization China.

Zhang Shuyi, a researcher at the Capital Institute of Pediatrics in Beijing, said there was strong evidence for the First Embrace approach.

"When babies are cold they are more likely to bleed, develop infections or have difficulty breathing," she said.

"Skin-to-skin contact keeps a baby warm by transferring heat; it provides direct protection against infection, promotes bonding between the parent and child and supports breast-feeding.

"Health workers who shifted from the normal practice of separation to skin-to-skin contact have observed that babies are more pink, calm and comfortable."

Statistics from the National Health and Family Planning Commission show the main causes of deaths among newborns include infections, premature birth and asphyxia.

The First Embrace approach is central to the Early Essential Newborn Care interventions that the WHO has developed to help reduce newborn deaths across the Western Pacific region, including China.

Bernhard Schwartlander, the WHO Representative in China, said, "As many as two-thirds of newborn deaths could be prevented using simple, low-cost interventions, including the First Embrace."

The campaign has now been launched via Weibo. the WHO will be posting information about the campaign, and hosting online question-and-answer sessions with Chinese and international experts, he said.

"The public can participate by following the WHO on Weibo and joining the conversation. We are targeting new mothers and parents, pregnant women and their families and couples who are thinking about having a baby," Schwartlander said.

It also aims to engage health professionals in the importance of early essential newborn care, he added.

Schwartlander said: "Just last week, new research showed that child and maternal health outcomes in Shanghai rival those in the USA and Canada; in other parts of China, the statistics are like those of poor countries such as Bangladesh."

The messages conveyed by the new campaign could help to bridge that gap, he said.

shanjuan@chinadaily.com.cn

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