Today, 17 November, is World Prematurity Day, part of World Prematurity Month which is observed across the world to raise awareness about preterm labor, premature birth and the issues facing preterm babies and their families.
According to March of Dimes, the complications related to preterm birth are the number one killer of young children under the age of 5. Around 15 million babies are born prematurely each year, and over a million of these children die as a result of being born prematurely. Premature birth is defined as birth happening before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and the health consequences of premature birth can vary notably depending on how close to full term the pregnancy was, and under which conditions the baby is born. If a premature baby survives, he or she can have long lasting or permanent complications related to physical or mental development, ranging from cognitive and learning challenges to lung problems, infections, intestinal problems, vision problems, and more.
While preterm labor and birth do not happen to women based on their socio-economic status, the risks of preterm birth and the chances of a preterm baby to survive and to overcome potential health challenges resulting from preterm labor vary greatly depending on where the baby is born. According to WHO, around 60% of preterm births happen in Africa and South Asia, the top three countries for preterm birth being India, China and Nigeria. Of extremely preterm babies born in low-income countries (born before 28 weeks of pregnancy), 90% die within the first days of life. Only 10% of babies of same gestational age die in high-income countries.
From countries with reliable data, almost all show that the rate for preterm births is increasing – a cause for global concern and a clear indication that more attention and resources has to be allocated to preventing preterm birth.
My son was born in New York, in a hospital in Upper West Side. I went in labor on the day I reached 37 weeks of pregnancy – the limit for a full-term pregnancy. There was a mix-up at the hospital with my due date, and according to their records, my due date was a day later than it actually was – which would have meant my son was born when I was 36 weeks and 6 days pregnant, not 37 weeks. Because of this – because of that one day – there was a pediatrician on stand-by in my delivery suite, ready to take the baby the minute he was born to check that he was okay. There were procedures and protocols in place to ensure that if anything was wrong, my baby would be attended to the minute he came out of me and into this world. There were trained medical professionals, equipment, medicine, heat lamps, oxygen – all waiting to make sure my child would stay as safe outside as he had been inside my womb. Since becoming pregnant, throughout my labor and once by son was born, I knew I had access to all the medical interventions and services needed to ensure that if I was at risk of preterm labor, it would most likely be noticed early on – and that if I did go into preterm labor and my son was born prematurely, there would be trained medical professionals around to ensure that he got the best possible chance to survive and thrive as possible.
My son was not a preemie and didn’t need any additional medical interventions after his birth. He weighed 7.3 lbs / 3.3kg and the minute he was placed on my bare chest he instinctively nudged towards my breast and latched on like a champ. His first day of life was just as miraculous and beautiful as every baby’s should be – but for millions of premature babies and their families, the first seconds, minutes and days of the child’s life are filled with fear, sadness and uncertainty. For too many preemies, life ends before it really even had a chance to begin – despite the fact that more than three quarters of premature babies could be save with often fairly simple and low-cost solutions and health interventions, such as proper prenatal care and check-ups, kangaroo care, breastfeeding and antibiotics, to name a few.
What can you do? Raise awareness, spread the word about the issue of premature birth, and join the cause! You can also become a March of Dimes Ambassador to share your family’s story and advocate for more attention and resources to prevent premature births and properly treat complications arising from it. Remember, even the smallest of actions can lead to big change – just like the tiniest of humans often are the biggest miracles of them all.
- World Prematurity Day Facebook page
- March of Dimes on Twitter
- Join the conversation with #WorldPrematurityDay and #FightPrematurity
Cover Photo Credit: Brian Roberts, Flickr Creative Commons