Prematurity Awareness Month is More Important Than Ever This Year

November marks prematurity awareness month, an initiative that started in 2003 by March of Dimes in an effort to raise awareness about the serious risks of babies born preterm, and this year the campaign is more important than ever. In the past year the preterm delivery rate rose from 9.6 in 2015 to 9.8 in 2016 – one of the highest rates among industrialized countries!

With this being the second year of rates increasing it is more important than ever to continue raising awareness, pushing for further research and educating the general public with information on how to care for premature infants.

At every point of pregnancy important fetal developments are taking place, from the first weeks when a baby is in the blastocyst stage to the final weeks when the brain, lungs and central nervous system are reaching their fully matured state to survive outside their mother’s womb. When full development in the womb isn’t possible there are a number of complications to be aware of. Complications include the obvious immediate one – survival – as well as short and long term complications.

Short term complications include:

  • Breathing problems
  • Immature gastrointestinal systems
  • Low blood pressure
  • Anemia and infant jaundice
  • Interventricular hemorrhaging
  • Temperature control issues
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Underdeveloped immune systems

Long term complications include:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Impaired vision
  • Hearing loss
  • Developmental delays
  • Learning disabilities
  • Chronic health issues

The environment of a preemie in the first few weeks of life has a significant impact on giving them the best chance at surviving and thriving in life. Here are three of the biggies when it comes to preemie health:

  1. Dress in layers – this is a good idea for all babies to help with temperature regulation. Since preemies are generally thin and don’t have extra layers of fat to help keep them warm, dressing them in layers and swaddling them is advised. At the same time, it’s important that they aren’t too hot either. Pay attention to the environment and adjust their clothing as needed.
  2. Frequent mealtimes – whether breastfed or bottle fed, preemies need to eat more than full term babies. A preemie should be fed every 2-4 hours, even if it means waking them up for a feeding. Until the doctor gives the OK to go for longer stretches of time, a preemie shouldn’t sleep for longer than 4 hours at a time. If breastfed, the mother should be hyper aware of her own diet which should include wholesome foods and plenty of water.
  3. Keep germs at bay – again a good idea for all infants, but especially important for preemies since they are generally immunosuppressed and have a reduced resistance to bacteria. For preemies it can take up to two years for the immune system to mature. A few rules of thumb are to limit visitors, don’t let anyone who is sick visit, wash hands before and after diaper changes,  and of course don’t allow ANY SMOKING nearby!

Though much has been accomplished since the start of this campaign, the raising rates of babies birthed before 37 weeks of pregnancy is cause for major concern. One of the thing we can do to help reduce that rate is to continue learning about the problems, risk factors, and what can be done to reduce premature births.