If you understand the benefits of skin-to-skin contact after birth, you may just have a Springside School alumna to thank. Dr. Kajsa Cadwell Brimdyr ’88 is an international expert on maternal child health and a lead ethnographic researcher for Healthy Children Project, Inc. Her research has helped to change practice in hospital settings to improve continuous skin-to-skin for the first hour after cesarean and vaginal births.
“She advocates for letting the tiniest human beings do the work that is instinctive and beneficial for both baby and mom—but often not understood or prioritized in the wider healthcare system,” according to a recent profile of Dr. Brimdyr, “The Invisible Work of Babies,” in the WPI Journal, the alumni magazine of her alma mater, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).
Drawn to math and engineering at Springside, she was a problem solver from the start, perhaps taking after her father, Dr. Chuck Cadwell, who was the head of the math department. Under his leadership, Springside added AP Calculus to the school's course offerings, clearing the path for those interested in pursuing engineering in college and beyond (such as his daughter!). She also was involved in theater and theater production, which she likened to a math problem. She performed at Springside, taking part in several Players productions, writing plays, and performing at assemblies throughout Middle School.
After graduating from WPI, Brimdyr went on to obtain her master’s in human computer interaction from Vermont College and a doctorate from Union Institute & University, with a dissertation on the “invisible,” or unnoticed, work of women. She eventually found her way to maternal health, documenting the invisible work of those in the labor and delivery room—mom and baby—and she set out to understand the barriers preventing skin-to-skin contact in that space. She uses video ethnography—the recording of activity in subjects in their natural setting.
Video, it turned out, was important in getting people to pay attention. “Seeing it changes everything,” she said in the profile. “You have to value the work the baby is doing. Once you see what they are doing, it is remarkable.”
An award-winning director, videographer, and producer of educational documentaries on the topic, she has helped keep the focus on the baby and the essential practice of skin-to-skin contact, both nationally and internationally. According to the Journal, Brimdyr presents her research for premature infants to organizations, governments (including a recent video ethnography project for the Ministry of Health for Uganda), and conferences worldwide, instructing the midwives, healthcare providers, speech-language specialists, and other professionals in attendance of the benefits of skin-to-skin contact for that first hour of life.
“My work is my passion,” she said. “It’s everything I think about. I think about it at night, and I wake up excited. It is part of who I am. That first hour after birth is such a sensitive and amazing period. It makes me think everything is possible.”
Read the full article about Brimdyr and her work in the WPI Journal, here.