Mediclinic Constantiaberg’s new mother and child unit
Posted on 19 February 2019
Mediclinic Constantiaberg’s multi-disciplinary mother and child unit offers family-centred healthcare supported by the latest medical technology.
The new multi-disciplinary mother and child unit at Mediclinic Constantiaberg offers specialised disciplines and highly trained medical staff – including an obstetric unit, labour rooms, neonatal critical care, paediatric unit, paediatric high care and critical care – all in one dedicated space.
Dr Malikah van der Schyff, a gynaecologist and obstetrician based at Mediclinic Constantiaberg, says the unit takes a mom-and-baby approach to maternal and neonatal care. “It is quite simple: we want to facilitate the perfect environment for parents to bond with their babies,” she says.
Why? The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that South Africa loses many mothers, babies and young children unnecessarily. Child mortality has increased since 1990 – of the 75,000 children who do not make it to their fifth birthday, 40% die within the first few weeks after being born.
The global Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) was launched by WHO and UNICEF in 1991 to address these concerns. This initiative aims to improve the role of maternity services in enabling new mothers to bond with and breastfeed their babies and to bring the whole family together as primary caregivers even within the neonatal care unit.
While Mediclinic Constantiaberg is not yet officially BFHI-accredited, it is on the way to setting the standard for optimal maternity and neonatal care.
The mom-and-baby approach is founded on research that shows parenting is a learned behaviour – during the early transition to parenthood, both mothers and fathers must learn to relate to and care for a newborn, while their sense of identity changes. Newborn babies are also making a transition to life outside the womb, and at the same time, family members are readjusting to their new roles.
This early period in family formation is a developmental opportunity, says Dr Van Der Schyff. “New parents need to learn the skills they need to make the transition between the hospital and home-based care as seamless as possible,” she says. “We use specific methods – such as actively encouraging skin-to-skin contact, bathing sessions, prioritising breastfeeding, nursing the family together as a unit, and helping fathers play an active role in the early days of their baby’s life.”
One of the most important skills is breastfeeding. UNICEF and the WHO recommend that hospitals encourage new mothers to breastfeed their babies exclusively for their first six months of life. This is because studies have shown that breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from illnesses such as gastroenteritis, asthma, eczema, and respiratory and ear infections.
Breastfeeding benefits extend into later life, too – research shows adults who were breastfed as babies may avoid obesity and high blood pressure – and even to mom: women who don’t breastfeed may be at higher risk of developing hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and even breast cancer.
Ultimately, while breastfeeding can reduce mortalities and morbidities, it is a key part of helping newborns adapt to the post-birth environment, says Dr Van Der Schyff. “Breastfeeding promotes bonding and alleviates stress for both parent and child,” she says. “This can help with a baby’s biological function, by regulating temperature and heart rate, but most importantly, it just soothes any anxiety and creates a sense of calm.”
Parents and their newborns have access to seven experienced gynaecologists and obstetricians, as well as nine other specialists, including paediatricians, audiologists and speech therapists, paediatric nephrologists and neurologists, and ear, nose and throat specialists.
Having all of these specialists in close proximity can also calm a new mom’s nerves, says Dr Van Der Schyff, while allowing doctors to examine new babies for potential warning signs and catch any problems before they develop.
The philosophy behind the mom-and-baby approach is rooted in a belief that a newborn baby is most at home when with its mother. “We don’t want to interrupt that closeness if we can help it,” she says. “A maternal-child bond is the best chance we have to ensure parents grow into their best lives as a family, and that their baby is loved and healthy. That bond is everything.”