Why two small feet mean a world of difference

How difficult must it be to find a tasteful christening present for a nephew who’s future king? (Especially when you have written a book called ‘Celebration’).

Faced with this challenge, Pippa Middleton’s obvious choice for baby George was,wp1155.jpg according to The Express, casts of his own (small) feet. Made of solid silver and designed, surely, for the mother ‘n’ baby with everything, they reportedly cost P Middy a toe-curling £7,000.

But whilst I’m sure George’s treasure trotters will have entranced the royals, this week a venture by the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania shows that small feet could also be the key to helping mothers in first world countries care for their premature babies.

Despite major reductions in infant mortality in the last century, one in ten babies around the world will be born prematurely – before 37 weeks gestation – and over a million of those will die. Yet basic actions like skin-to-skin contact for warmth and regular breastfeeding in the very early days can make the difference between life and death. 80% of the one million deaths are in South Asian and Sub-Saharan Africa, and so educating the mothers of premature babies in these areas is vital.

_70967560_baby_feet_304inThe initiative works like this: health visitor volunteers in remote Tanzanian villages show a laminated picture of two different sized newborn feet. If a baby’s feet are smaller than the smallest foot (67mm) in the first two days of life, the mother is urged to take him straight to hospital for care. If the baby’s foot falls between the smaller and larger foot, advice is given to the new mother on how to care best for her child. It’s working: with this information, new mothers gain confidence and often keep a baby alive that would otherwise have died.

I watched the brilliant This World: Don’t Panic – The Truth About Population this week and am in utter awe of what has happened to the human race in the last 50 years. Whilst the population has doubled and is now at 7 billion (bn), it seems we are not destined for a population of 30bn sometime in the next century; just a mere 11bn – and most of those will be ‘oldies’ who will die off, leaving a modest 7-8bn again. The heroes in managing the world’s population? Health visitors in developing countries educating mothers in birth control and infant health.

If Prince George has a sibling, he will be in good company: the average family size in the world is now 2.5 children. However, it also seems likely that where George might get fleeting pleasure from his solid silver plates, for billions of babies in the future, a humble laminated image of feet could prove to be priceless.

You can read more about the Mtunze Mtoto Mchanga – which means “protect the newborn baby” strategy in the BBC Health Check report.