November 17 is World Prematurity Day, a globally recognised opportunity to raise awareness of the leading cause of death of children under five.
My personal experience with pre-term birth means this day holds a very special place in my heart. In honour of our very own miracle, James, I want to share six things I learnt about premature babies throughout our NICU stay.
The doctors, nurses, midwives and health professionals that work in the NICU are true heroes. Each day they perform miracles, and they saved our little boy’s life. They are guardian angels in disguise, and they treat each and every baby like their own. They become your family, and without them, the world would be a much smaller place.
2. Premature babies are not uncommon.
Each year, 15 million babies worldwide are born too soon, and one million of those sadly lose their fight for life. Premature birth is more common than you think, it is on the rise and it can happen to anyone. In fact, it happened to me. And although I was absolutely terrified as I walked into NICU for the first time, I took comfort knowing that James was surrounded by a team of little fighters. He was in good company and he would never be alone.
3. Premature babies miss out on vital developmental time in-utero.
A baby born too soon does not experience the final weeks of pregnancy which are essential to develop their major organs such as the brain, lungs and liver, and to acquire fat required to maintain body temperature. Consequently, there is a high risk of disability and even death the earlier the baby is born. Hence the reason I now cringe every time I hear a pregnant Mum saying ‘I wish this baby would just get out already!’ Every week during pregnancy counts.
When a baby arrives early, they can no longer rely on the womb to survive. Their energy is completely exhausted by the simple things we take for granted each day such as breathing, digesting, maintaining their temperature and responding to light, sound and touch. Their world is very different to that of a full-term newborn, and for this reason, they will have some catching up to do. Try not to compare.
5. Premature babies need our help.
Yes, you can help. These babies often require blood transfusions to support them through their early days, and just one hour of your time can bring hope to four babies. James required life-saving platelet transfusions just hours after he was born, and if it wasn’t for one kind lady in Sydney who had his rare blood type, we might not have been so lucky. Enough said.
6. Premature babies are both fragile and strong at the same time.
A baby born at 24 weeks gestation can weigh close to just 500g at birth. They are vulnerable, they don’t have an ounce of fat and they can fit in your hand. But their fight is undeniable. They are the embodiment of perseverance and strength, which cannot be measured by weight, length or gestational age. I truly believe that we can all learn a thing or two from these little miracles.
Premature babies face significant short and long term health challenges. Unfortunately, some of these babies are not equipped to survive outside of the womb and lose their fight for life. World Prematurity Day aims to raise global awareness of the seriousness of pre-term birth and the measures that can be taken to prevent it. Whatever you are doing and wherever you are on the 17th of November, I ask you to HUG your loved ones tight, and remember those families who are unable to hug their premature babies right now.
Share your stories and pictures on social media (#worldprematurityday), change your profile picture on Facebook and light a candle in honour of the 15 million babies born too soon and the 1 million who lost their fight to survive.