World Prematurity Day: Understanding and Supporting Premature Babies and their Parents
Every year, on November 17th, World Prematurity Day is observed to raise awareness about the challenges faced by premature babies and their families. Premature birth, defined as birth before 37 weeks of gestation, affects millions of infants worldwide. In this blog, we will explore the reasons behind premature births, discuss important considerations when caring for a premature baby, and highlight ways to support parents during this challenging time.
Why may a baby be premature?
Premature birth can occur due to various factors, some of which include:
- Maternal health issues: Certain maternal health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, infections, or placental problems, can increase the risk of premature birth.
- Multiple pregnancies: Twins, triplets, or more are often born prematurely as the uterus struggles to accommodate multiple babies.
- Lifestyle choices: Smoking, drug use, and inadequate prenatal care can contribute to premature birth.
- Previous premature birth: Women who have previously given birth prematurely are at a higher risk of experiencing it again.
- Surgery or procedures to your cervix such as LLETZ: can weaken the cervix or shorten the cervix which can lead to premature labour and birth.
- Infections: Infections during pregnancy, such as urinary tract infections or sexually transmitted infections, can increase the risk of premature birth.
Caring for a premature baby – what do I need to know?
Caring for a premature baby requires specialised attention and support. Here are some important considerations:
- Medical care: Premature babies often require specialised medical care in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and/or Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU). This includes round the clock monitoring of vital signs, providing respiratory support, and addressing any complications that may arise.
- Feeding challenges: Premature babies may have difficulty breastfeeding or bottle-feeding due to their underdeveloped sucking reflex. Consulting with a lactation specialist, infant feeding lead or neonatal nurse can help parents navigate these challenges.
- Developmental milestones: Premature babies may reach developmental milestones at a different pace than full-term babies. It is important to monitor their progress and seek early intervention services if needed.
- Emotional support: Parents of premature babies often experience heightened stress, anxiety, and feelings of guilt. Offering emotional support, reassurance, and access to counselling services can greatly assist them during this challenging time.
Reducing the risk of premature birth
Continuity of carer and personalised care have been shown to play a crucial role in reducing the chance of preterm birth. When a pregnant woman receives care from the same midwife throughout her pregnancy, it allows for a deeper understanding of her individual needs and circumstances. This enables the midwife to tailor their care specifically to the woman, ensuring that her physical and emotional well-being are prioritised, and referrals are made to obstetricians appropriately. By establishing a strong relationship between the midwife and the pregnant woman, trust and open communication are fostered, allowing for early detection and management of any potential risk factors that may contribute to preterm birth. Additionally, personalised care ensures that the woman’s unique circumstances, such as previous preterm births or underlying medical conditions, are considered, leading to more targeted interventions and support. Overall, continuity of carer and personalised care provide a comprehensive approach to pregnancy care, ultimately reducing the chance of preterm birth and promoting positive maternal and neonatal outcomes.
Preparing for a premature birth/baby
Preparing for a preterm birth can be an overwhelming experience, but there are steps that can be taken to help ensure the best possible outcome. Parent education is important, knowledge is power which can be helpful with decision making if you know you may be having a preterm birth. Educating yourself about preterm birth, its potential causes, and the signs and symptoms to look out for. This knowledge can help in recognising early warning signs and seeking prompt medical attention. It is also crucial to establish open and regular communication with healthcare providers, discussing any concerns or questions and following their guidance. Preparing a birth plan that includes preferences for neonatal care, such as kangaroo care, colostrum harvesting and breastfeeding, can also be beneficial. Additionally, creating a support network of family, friends who can provide emotional and practical assistance and midwives offering flexible, personalised postnatal care during this challenging time can be invaluable. Finally, taking care of one’s own physical and emotional well-being through proper nutrition, rest, and stress management is essential.
How to support parents when their baby is born prematurely
Supporting parents of premature babies is crucial for their well-being. Here are some ways to provide assistance:
- Offer empathy and understanding: Acknowledge the emotional rollercoaster parents may be experiencing and provide a listening ear without judgment.
- Educate and inform: Help parents understand the medical procedures, terminologies, and potential challenges their baby may face. This empowers them to actively participate in their baby’s care.
- Encourage bonding: Encourage parents to engage in skin-to-skin contact (kangaroo care) and participate in their baby’s care routines as much as possible. This promotes bonding and helps parents feel more connected to their baby.
- Provide resources: Share information about support groups, online communities, and local organizations that specialize in premature baby care. These resources can offer valuable guidance and a sense of community.
- Practical assistance: Offer practical help, such as preparing meals, running errands, or providing transportation, to alleviate some of the burdens parents may face.
World Prematurity Day serves as a reminder of the challenges faced by premature babies and their families. By understanding the reasons behind premature births, considering the unique needs of premature babies, and providing support to parents, we can collectively work towards improving the outcomes and experiences of these tiny fighters and their families.