Reducing length of stay in hospital for very low birthweight infants by involving mothers in a stepdown unit: an experience from Karachi (Pakistan)

Document Type



Paediatrics and Child Health


PROBLEM: Clinical care of infants with a very low birth weight (less than 1500 g) in developing countries can be labour intensive and is often associated with a prolonged stay in hospital. The Aga Khan University Medical Center in Karachi, Pakistan, established a neonatal intensive care unit in 1987. By 1993-4, very low birthweight infants remained in hospital for 18-21 days.STRATEGIES FOR CHANGE: A stepdown unit was established in September 1994, with mothers providing all basic nursing care for their infants before being discharged under supervision.KEY MEASURES FOR IMPROVEMENT: We analysed neonatal outcomes for the time periods before and after the stepdown unit was created (1987-94 and 1995-2001). We compared these two time periods for survival after birth until discharge, morbidity patterns during hospitalisation, length of stay in hospital, and readmission rates to hospital in the four weeks after discharge.EFFECTS OF CHANGE: Of 509 consecutive, very low birthweight infants, 494 (97%) preterm and 140 (28%) weighing < 1000 g at birth), 391 (76%) survived to discharge from the hospital. The length of hospitalisation fell significantly from 1987-90, when it was 34 (SD 18) days, to 16 (SD 14) days in 1999-2001 (P < 0.001). Readmission rates to hospital did not rise, nor did adverse outcomes at 12 months of age.LESSONS LEARNT: Our results indicate that it is possible to involve mothers in the active care of their very low birthweight infants before discharge. This may translate into earlier discharge from hospital to home settings without any increase in short term complications and readmissions.


BMJ Clinical Research Ed.