World Prematurity Day – 17th November 2020

World Prematurity Day – 17th November 2020

The 17th November 2020 is World Prematurity Day. As a mom of two sons who were born prematurely and had NICU stays, and as a professional who works with many children who were born prematurely, it is a topic that is very close to my heart. Today, we need to take a moment to raise awareness, to acknowledge and to appreciate the challenges that come with prematurity. Having a premature baby is not an easy journey to follow. These babies are however amazing little beings and it is important that we never underestimate the strength of these small beings. Here are a few facts about prematurity:

If your birth and pregnancy were normal, you are one of the lucky ones.

15 million babies (in other words, 12% of all births) are born prematurely. Of these babies, one million die due to complications and a lack of healthcare. The number of preterm births in South Africa has increased, with one in seven babies born prematurely – 15% of births in the country.

There are categories of prematurity.

Preterm is defined as a baby born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed. There are subcategories of preterm birth based on gestational age:

  • Extremely preterm (less than 28 weeks).
  • Very preterm (28 to 32 weeks).
  • Moderate to late preterm (32 to 37 weeks).

Being born early means less prepared, NOT less human.

When a baby is born before their due date, it does not mean that they are less human, less valuable, or less worthy. It only means that they are less prepared. A premature baby needs time to develop and grow.

It is not the parent’s fault.

No mom or dad wanted their baby to be born early. Before you judge, remember that many medical conditions can lead to premature birth. Very few of these are within the mother’s control. Most have followed the diets, rested well enough, and obeyed the doctor’s orders.

Common causes of preterm birth include multiple pregnancies, infections and conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. There are also instances where no cause is identified.

The experience of having your baby in the NICU is hard.

The NICU is a terrifying place. It is heartbreaking to see your child attached to monitors, machines, and cables. Not being able to hold or feed your baby goes against all a mother’s better instincts. But it is also a place where your child is receiving the best care possible from highly qualified nurses and specialist doctors.

There may be complications.

Premature babies are at risk for physical, health, and cognitive difficulties as they grow and develop. There are however many successful individuals who were born prematurely, these include Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Anna Pavlova, Stevie Wonder and Isaac Newton. Complications are not always limiting, and children born prematurely have as much chance at success as their peers.

You may need to shift your expectations.

A premature baby needs time. You need to take into consideration that, although the baby is not in the womb anymore, they still need to develop as if they are. Their development might be slower, and their needs may differ from those of other babies. Milestones may need to be thrown out the window, but that’s okay because you will learn to celebrate and appreciate any progress your baby makes – no matter how small.

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