Helping Babies Breathe

Posted by on Feb 22, 2015 in Writings

Helping Babies Breathe

Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) is an  initiative of the American Academy of Paediatrics and the World Health Organisation. It is a programme that has been implemented to ensure that every birth attendant is skilled in the basics of neonatal resuscitation as part of one of the five 2015 Millennium Goals (to reduce infant mortality).

Apparently, in Countries where this programme has been implemented, governments have found a decrease of up to 25% in neonatal deaths.

Helping Babies Breathe is a neonatal resuscitation curriculum for resource-limited circumstances. It was developed on the premise that assessment at birth and simple newborn care are things that every baby deserves. The initial steps taught in HBB can save lives and give a much better start to many babies who struggle to breathe at birth. The focus is to meet the needs of every baby born.

Helping Babies Breathe emphasises skilled attendants at birth, assessment of every baby, skin to skin contact with mother, delayed cord clamping, temperature support, stimulation to breathe, and assisted ventilation as needed, all within “The Golden Minute” after birth.

Midwife Marianne Littlejohn and myself are trained as teachers and trainers of HBB and volunteer for Operation Smile and have thus far taught midwives, doctors, NICU staff, nurses, doulas, birth attendants, mothers, fathers, and interested people these basic but life saving skills. We have been privileged to teach all over South Africa, as well as in Malawi and Kenya. Plans are also afoot for us to teach in the DRC and Lesotho, as well as continuing to teach in South Africa.

This last week I taught the skills to a group of peers, WOMBS doulas and CPM Mandi Busson at friend and colleague Lana Petersen‘s home. I must admit to feeling slightly intimidated, teaching friends and colleagues but this fell away very quickly as stories were shared and we acted out various scenarios from precipitous unplanned home births to water births.

What I love about the HBB programme is its emphasis on normal birth – that it reiterates that approximately 90% of all births are straightforward and that it teaches as its introduction how to facilitate that: Skin to skin, delayed cord clamping, breastfeeding, etc and that even when a baby needs help to breathe, that every step is take to ensure that that mother and baby bond and cycle is not broken.

Here are some pictures from this week’s course.


Tarryn, Mandi, Nicolette and Vania


Lana happily receives her baby after Lauren caught it, supported by ‘father’ Mandi


Going over some of the steps in the HBB programme


We really had fun – and learned something too

We had so much fun acting out the various scenarios that plans are afoot for some fun birth theatre sports, possibly to be presented at this year’s Cape Town Midwifery and Birth Conference.

If you would like to host or attend a Helping Babies Breathe course, please contact me.