Did you know that 15 million babies are born too soon around the world each year? And that 1.1 million pre-term babies die every year? Today, November 17th, is World Prematurity Day. Sponsored by the March of Dimes and other global organizations, it will be a day to spotlight premature births and spread the world about the things that everyone can do to help reduce pre-term births. Even though we live in the United States, a wealthy, developed country, we still have a long way to go to reduce the number of pre-term births here.
Like many people, I never even thought about pre-term birth until I had one. My daughter was born at 27 weeks gestation (See my post.) She weighed only 2 lbs. and most of her body could fit in my husband’s hand. No one knows what caused her to come so early. My pregnancy was absolutely perfect until…it wasn’t.
All of a sudden I was faced with statistics that included prematurity being the second leading cause of death in children under five, after pneumonia. For the babies that do survive, I learned that preemies have an increased risk of chronic illness and disabilities, such as lung disease and cerebral palsy. I consider myself very fortunate. I live in the United States and had access to excellent neonatal care at the UCONN Health Center.
One of the activities that the doctors and nurses encourage that is credited for saving the lives of many preemies is Kangaroo Care or K-Care. This is when, as soon as it is medically possible, the baby is placed naked on the parent’s chest and snuggled. Research shows that this simple act of skin to skin contact can cut preterm deaths in half. (In. Half.)
The first time I did K-Care with Zoey I was nervous. She was only a tiny sprite of a thing and her skin was thin and translucent. She had wires and tubes all over. I was afraid that just touching her was going to hurt her. The nurse had to perform acrobatics with the tubes and the rocking chair and the privacy screen-basically move heaven and earth to get your skin in contact with your baby’s skin. Once Zoey was out of her incubator, I opened my shirt and they placed her on my chest. The nurse got the heart and breathing monitors to settle down and both Zoey and I relaxed. It was the most amazing moment I have ever experienced with my child. Our breathing got in sync and so did our heartbeats. The only two people in the world were the two of us. I couldn’t hold back the tears. My husband and I had a deal-no crying at the bedside no matter how difficult the day was. But these were tears of hope and joy. I was holding my baby. Little did I know that I was doing my part to save her life. There was something that I could do for her that was finally within my control.
My family and I support the March of Dimes each year because March of Dimes was there for us when we needed them and do great work in this arena. In a few weeks I will be starting my volunteer work with the March of Dimes Family Support Program at the UCONN NICU, meeting with parents to let them know they are not alone in their own premature journey. You can help too. Check out the March of Dimes and World Prematurity Day on Facebook.
Statistics courtesy of The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health.