These days, the most important part of Nilima Gimbhal's daily routine is to wrap her month-old baby boy in a cloth bag and hold him close to her heart.
Born in the seventh month of the pregnancy in April, the premature baby weighed only 1.24kg at birth. A normal newborn weighs more than 2.5kg.
Gimbhal's act of binding the baby to her chest for 14 hours a day is inspired by the female kangaroo, which carries its joey in a skin pouch in its belly.
Called Kangaroo Mother Care, the concept is gaining popularity in the city as a means to nurture premature babies to health. Last month, SL Raheja Hospital in Mahim introduced the maternity and child care technique for its patients.
Underweight premature babies are conventionally kept in incubators, which provide warmth and insulate the baby from possible infections. Even mothers are denied access to the baby.
"With kangaroo care we want to promote an ambience where the mother and child are encouraged to bond," said Dr Uma Nambiar, chief executive officer, SL Raheja Hospital.
The concept involves skin-to-skin contact and is based on the fact that warmth of the mother's body helps boost development of a premature baby.
The 'human incubator' allows transfer of body warmth thus helping in faster weight gain and recovery of the infant. "The baby senses the mother's heartbeat and breathing pattern and this regularises the baby's breathing," said Dr Asmita Advirkar, associate consultant, neonatology, SL Raheja Hospital.
Kangaroo care also promotes emotional bonding between mother and child. "Any healthy family member can provide kangaroo care. It is basically about human warmth," said Advirkar.
While private hospitals such as SL Raheja are new to advocating the importance of kangaroo care, KEM Hospital in Parel, a public hospital, introduced the concept in 2000.
KEM's Kangaroo Mother Care Centre nurses approximately 1,000 babies every year. The centre monitors the health of premature babies referred to it and trains parents to administer kangaroo care.
Chandrashekhar Pawar, 32, an electrician, helps his wife Sujata in giving kangaroo care to their two-month-old boy. Born three months' premature, the baby developed respiratory and cardiac distress and was put on kangaroo care 12 days after birth.
"We have been asked to give kangaroo care till his weight reaches 2kg. It is a better and a cost-effective technique than keeping our child in an incubator," said Pawar, a Charkop resident. "His increasing weight is our biggest motivator. Also, we can do this anytime, anywhere."
"Kangaroo care is a cost-effective and comprehensive method of care for premature babies with low weight. Early, continuous and prolonged skin-to-skin contact facilitates breast feeding, provides warmth to the baby and prevents infections," said Dr Ruchi Nanavati, professor and head, department of neonatology, KEM Hospital.
"We have been giving kangaroo care to all the babies weighing less than 2kg at birth," said Nanavati.
Nanavati oversees the centre where Gimbhal, 21, learnt how to administer kangaroo care to her first-born. After a month of following instructions, Gimbhal's son, who suffered from a breathing difficulty and other complications, has gained approximately 300gm. "My child was so tiny that my husband and I were afraid to hold him," said the Borivli housewife. "I want my baby to be healthy. Holding him every day I have noticed that he is gaining weight."