Premature birth, or birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy, is the leading cause of death among America’s newborns (source: March of Dimes). That’s why World Prematurity Day, observed on Monday, November 17, is so important. It’s a day to raise awareness for the issue of premature birth and to gain more support for the research that is needed to help ease this global health crisis.
The Effects of Premature Birth
For babies who do survive premature birth, there is a higher likelihood that they will experience emotional, developmental and physical challenges as a newborn and throughout childhood. Children and families that are experiencing these challenges will likely need extra support and understanding communitywide.
“Children who are born prematurely are at a higher risk for lasting childhood disabilities as well as learning disorders and behavioral disorders,” explained Jim Helm, PhD, director of the Carolina NIDCAP Training Center at WakeMed and infant-family specialist. “Additionally, there are physical challenges that can be associated with prematurity. A child may experience growth problems, and his or her lungs are more vulnerable because they are not yet completely developed. Therefore, these children are at a higher risk for respiratory illnesses and conditions such as asthma.”
By the Numbers
According to the March of Dimes, 15 million babies worldwide are born too soon each year – that’s equal to one in ten babies. In the United States, 11.4 percent of all babies are born prematurely each year.
Premature birth can happen to any mother and baby, regardless of preexisting health conditions – the exact cause is not always known. More research is needed to find answers for why some babies arrive too early.
World Prematurity Day is an excellent time to garner support for this important cause and to remind women about the factors that do contribute to a healthy pregnancy, such as good prenatal care, knowing the signs and symptoms of labor, not smoking, eating a nutritious diet and getting plenty of rest. The day also presents a perfect opportunity to remind teachers, caregivers, health care providers and others who interact with children about the issue of premature birth and how it can affect children both mentally and physically.
Care for Premature Babies at WakeMed
At WakeMed, we hold the issue of premature birth close to our hearts. Our team has been providing exceptional care to the Triangle’s premature and critically ill babies for more than 35 years. In fact, our Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) offers the highest level of care available to premature and critically ill babies in Wake County. In February 2014, we opened a newly renovated and expanded NICU, allowing us to now offer 48 patient beds to the babies that need our care.
Additionally, Neonatology at WakeMed is home to the Carolina Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program (NIDCAP) Training Center, one of only 9 training centers in the United States (19 worldwide). WakeMed is the fourth NIDCAP-certified nursery in the world. This esteemed certification is a reflection of WakeMed’s dedication to neonatal developmental care and focus on patient- and family-centered care. WakeMed has been a leader in developmentally supportive care for more than 25 years.
But the specialized care does not stop there. Our Special Infant Care Clinic follows babies born before 32 weeks gestation, or who experienced a difficult medical course after birth, until they are around 2 years old.
“The Special Infant Care Clinic allows us to closely monitor each baby’s growth and development. Especially for babies that are less than 1 year old, we can monitor their sleep patterns, ability to self-regulate, motor and emerging language skills, as well as feeding skills to ensure things are progressing normally,” said Helm. “In addition to our patients, parents can self-refer their children to this clinic or obtain a doctor’s referral.”
Other sources of community support for children who are experiencing challenges after premature birth include:
What Can You Do to Help?
If you are concerned about the issue of premature birth and you wish to help, you can donate to the WakeMed NICU via the WakeMed Foundation, the March of Dimes or the NIDCAP Federation International (NFI). Help spread the word about prematurity by talking with your family and friends.