Every year in New Zealand, around five to six thousand babies – approximately 8% of all babies born – arrive prematurely. Several thousand of these tiny premature babies will need critical life support, but despite the shaky start, most premature babies go on to develop normally. However, premature babies can have lasting health problems, especially if they were born very early.
Could you be at risk of having a premature baby?
Unless you’ve been identified as being at risk of preterm delivery, a premature birth probably isn’t top of mind. But any pregnant woman can have a premature baby, even is she takes good care of herself during pregnancy. Around half of all preterm births have no identifiable cause. So it’s a good idea to at least be aware of the factors that increase risk, the signs of preterm labour, and the care requirements of premature babies.
Seeing your premature baby or premature babies (54% of twins are premature) in the unfamiliar environment of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) can be hugely daunting. It helps to be prepared by knowing some of the NICU medical terms so that you are familiar with the terms that your doctor or pediatrician may use to describe the condition of your baby.
You and your baby may not have gotten your full 9 months, the birth plan went out the window, the celebrations of birth missing and you must now experience the rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, setbacks and triumphs of a premature baby, which very well could be one of the greatest life challenges you ever face. Most parents of premature babies share the same feelings of fear and distress. Find out how the impact on parents can be assuaged by active participation in baby’s NICU care and by joining support groups.
For parents going home with premature babies, the relief can be enormous – but so too is the anxiety about caring for their precious bundle away from supportive hospital staff. One of the things you have to watch out for is Respiratory Syncytial Virus which is highly dangerous for premature babies. A lot of parents think that once their tiny bub is out of hospital, the hard work is over, the truth is actually the opposite, the hard work is just about to begin. You might already be feeling physically and emotionally burnt about after your premature baby’s stay in the hospital. But you are going to be faced with more of the same at home as your sleep patterns are are going to be interrupted by your newborn, so try catch 40 winks at every possible opportunity. If you feel it’s just too much for you, then perhaps consider getting some help from either some experienced family members or a professional carer.
Newborns are considered to be premature if they come into the world before 37 weeks instead of the usual 38 to 42 weeks. Premature babies weigh much less than full-term babies and may have health problems because their organs didn’t have time to develop. Which women are at risk of having premature babies, and what are the lifestyle and medical factors that can increase the risk of having a premature baby? Remember, even if you have one of these risk factors, it does not mean you’ll definitely give birth early. It just means there’s a greater of risk of prematurity. Still, knowing there’s risk is scary, so please learn the signs of pre-term labor.
The Neonatal Trust New Zealand provides support for parents of premature babies in New Zealand. The primary focus for the Trust is supporting parents by helping them in whatever way we can to get through what is usually a very traumatic time.
Alternatively, contact your local Plunket Nurse to find a support group in your area.
You can find out about Huggies Premmie Nappies here.