Friday, November 16, 2012

World Prematurity Day, 2012

November 17, 2012 


World Prematurity Day!

Prematurity, or preterm birth, refers to live births that occur before 37 weeks gestational age. The following are categories defined by how many weeks gestation were completed before the birth:
  • extremely preterm (under 28 weeks gestation)
  • very preterm (28 to 32 weeks gestation)
  • moderate to late preterm (32 to under 37 weeks gestation) 
A pregnancy is considered full-term at 39 weeks and as such I think these definitions need some adjusting, but March of Dimes, WHO, ACOG and many others agree that an induction or caesarean birth should not be planned before 39 completed weeks unless there is a TRUE medical indication. However, if your pregnancy is healthy, it is best if your baby is born at 40 weeks or later! (watch for a future post on this!)

Preterm birth can lead to a variety of complications and the earlier the baby is born, the more severe the health challenges they will face. More infants die from preterm related problems than any other single cause. Preterm babies often spend days or weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and preterm babies have a higher risk of:
  • Intellectual diabilities
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Breathing and respiratory problems.
  • Visual problems including retinopathy of prematurity
  • Hearing Loss
  • Feeding and digestive problems.

Preterm birth is a serious global problem with an estimated 15 millions babies born too soon around the world... and this number is rising. This translates to one in every 10 babies worldwide being born too soon.

 According to the World Health Organization:
  • An estimated 1 million babies die annually from preterm birth complications.
  • Preterm birth is the leading cause of newborn deaths (babies in the first four weeks of life) and the second leading cause of death after pneumonia in children under five years.
  • Three-quarters of them could be saved with current, cost-effective interventions, even without intensive care facilities.
  • Across 184 countries, the rate of preterm birth ranges from 5% to 18% of babies born.
In the United States, 1 in 8 babies are born too soon. This number is higher than many other developed nations and the March of Dimes gives the U.S. a "C" grade on the prematurity report card. You can see the report card here and find the grade for your state! Sadly, only 4 states in the nation have an "A" grade.


Unfortunately we still do not know all the reasons for preterm birth, but a few risk factors include: multiple pregnancies (such as twins, triplets), infections and chronic conditions (such as diabetes, high blood pressure), and there is also a genetic influence.

With advances in technology we are now able to save many babies using cost-effective care such as: antenatal steroid injections (given to pregnant women at risk of preterm labour to strengthen the babies’ lungs), kangaroo mother care (the baby is carried by the mother with skin-to-skin contact and frequent breastfeeding), antiseptic cream for the umbilical cord, and antibiotics to treat newborn infections – even without the availability of neonatal intensive care.

Ensuring skilled health care workers and crucial supplies are also important factors in decreasing deaths due to prematurity and some countries, over the past decade,  have halved deaths due to preterm birth. These include Ecuador, Oman, Sri Lanka and Turkey. Also, to reduce preterm birth rates, women – especially adolescents – need better access to family planning and increased empowerment, as well as improved care before, between and during pregnancies.

If you are pregnant, it is important to receive early prenatal care from a health professional such as a doctor or midwife. Eating a healthy diet, taking prenatal vitamins and ensuring proper care of any chronic diseases is important to decreasing the chances of preterm birth. Here is more information on prenatal care.

The March of Dimes is a powerful advocate for prematurity awareness, support and prevention, and they have funded the development of technologies, such as surfactant to help premature babies breathe,as well as being an ally for every family with a premature baby. If you can, please consider giving to their incredible organization and improving the lives of women, infants, and families around the world. (donate here). You can also give in other ways, such as volunteering at one of their fundraising events!

However, if you can't give any financial support, you can make an impact in SO many other ways! Most importantly, spread the word! Share what you learn with friends, family, co-workers, and encourage them to get involved. Chances are you know someone effected by preterm birth, with 1 in 10 babies born premature worldwide, and 1 in 8 born premature in the U.S.

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