Winter days with the sun out bright are among my favourite days. It only gets better if you get to go to a village on such a day when the fields are a rich green, the water light blue and the sun offering warmth amidst the chilly wind. It was a day exactly like this when I met Munni* and her four-day old infant. She was at the far end of her two-room hut, sitting on the floor amidst many pieces of cloth holding her baby.
The baby was under-weight and along with many words of counselling, we also provided a cloth for properly wrapping the baby. Three days later I got a call that the baby couldn’t survive. The cause, hypothermia, a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, had led to a dangerously low body temperature.
After giving the necessary next-step instructions to my team member to provide immediate counselling to the mother and her family, I was left numb. My mind immediately revisited my first Mahila Mandal (women’s group meeting) where I had spoken about the importance of properly wrapping a baby. While I was addressing the group I myself wasn’t aware just how crucial this discussion would be a couple of months down the line when the weather would change.
For the next couple of months, during the peak of winter, we received many calls that new-born babies require immediate assistance – the cold has gotten to them. Usually all these calls were within 42 days of child birth. The first 42 days are crucial for the mother as her body is recovering after giving birth and for the baby who is trying to accustom themselves to the outside world after the protective environment within the mothers’ womb.
Among the many important tasks for our team during counselling is to provide wrapping cloth to all expecting or new mothers. More importantly, to teach them the correct method to wrap a baby so as to avoid hypothermia. I remember assuming that the need for this is only in the months of winter. However, realized soon after that the outside world is equally new for a baby irrespective of the weather.
Certainly, the dip in temperature can cause this particular issue to become more crucial; however safe-guarding the baby from cold is necessary all year around. My team has received calls of babies getting hypothermia even in the extreme heat of June. So what really is the correct method to wrap a baby to avoid Hypothermia?
- It is imperative to make sure that the cloth is clean and dry. This becomes a lot more difficult during the winter months when sun doesn’t come up for multiple days altogether. Hence, we provide the cloth, in order to take this burden away from the mother at that point.
- Fold the cloth twice to make it thicker and warmer. Then fold it from both the top right and left side corners in order to create a base for the baby’s head to rest.
- Before placing the baby on the cloth, it is made sure that the baby is dry. Then they are carefully placed in the middle with the head resting on the folded part.
- After that, each corner of the cloth is taken and the baby is covered from the middle, to keep the chest warm. The face is left open for them to breathe easily.
- We then take the cloth from below to cover the feet as well. The feet of the baby are the first markers in order to check if they have contracted cold or pneumonia.
6. Once the baby is wrapped properly, we counsel the mother on how simply wrapping is not enough. The baby requires body heat from a family member to insulate themselves. The mothers and other members of the family are told about the practice of holding the baby close to their chest to provide warmth from their own body heat. This increases the bond between the baby and the family member, and is also responsible for increasing their body weight in the first few days after birth.
7. Along with wrapping, the baby should we wearing warm clothes – a woolen cap and socks supplement to ensure that the baby is kept warm.
As reported in NFHS (National Family Health Survey)-5, the infant mortality rate is 46.8 in Bihar, the highest in the country. The causes of this could be many. However, it is worth examining just how many of these kids die due to hypothermia and how many can be saved with the simple act of wrapping appropriately.
Stories from Dalsinghsarai, Bihar have repeatedly told us that ensuring a baby is warm not only reduces the infant mortality rate but also results in the increase of baby’s weight. Along with that, wrapping is something that does not require huge investments – counselling and a clean and dry cloth. Indeed, wrapping can save a life!
*Name changed to maintain confidentiality