Mission Doctors Association

Food, Warmth and Love

When I was in medical training years ago, an older pediatrician told me that all an infant needs to thrive is food, warmth, and love.  It seemed a bit simplistic at the time, and while true for most of us in infancy, it is a bit more complicated when you are born prematurely.  In that case, your first days out in the world can be dangerous ones.

Today is World Prematurity Day, observed annually to raise awareness of this serious problem and the special medical needs of these youngest and most fragile patients.  Fifteen million babies in the world are born preterm (more than 3 weeks early) each year.  Preterm birth is the leading cause of death in children under 5 years of age, responsible for one million deaths per year worldwide (2015)1.

As with so many medical conditions,  the greatest burden of illness is borne by those in the lowest-income countries2.  While the overall occurrence of preterm birth is about 10%, it varies by country from 5% to 18% of all babies born1.

In high-income countries, almost all children born at or below 2 months early survive while in low-income countries, 1/2 of these children do not survive.  Some children born early do require complex medical care, many do not.  Three-quarters of these deaths in low-income countries could be prevented by the availability of simple medical and nursing care such as attention to keeping the infant warm, breastfeeding support, and care for complications including infections and breathing problems.

While good medical and nursing care in mission hospitals is critical to the survival of these little ones, no one is more important than the infant’s mother.  As you look around the preterm nursery of a mission hospital, you see mothers expressing breast milk and feeding the precise amount instructed to their infants via a feeding tube if they are too weak to suck.  They do this every three hours, around the clock, for days, weeks, and sometimes months.  They keep their preterm infants against their skin to keep them warm in hospitals with no heating.  They spend their days talking to them, singing to them, rocking them.  Food, warmth, and love is really all they need; it is just a bit more complicated.

Tim Cavanagh


  1. World Health Organization

Fact Sheet Preterm Birth



  1. World Health Organization

Newborn Mortality (28 January 2022)



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top