Once upon a time an expectant mother and father eagerly anticipated the arrival of a healthy baby on or around their due date in 40 weeks’ time. Unfortunately at some point during the prenatal period, things took a turn for the worst, and instead of welcoming a baby on their due date, these same parents quickly prepared to deliver their baby earlier than planned, and they were overwhelmed with stress and fear of what was to come. They wondered: Will our baby survive? Will our baby be okay? Did we do something wrong to cause the early birth of our baby? Am I to blame?
They look at their baby through the plexi-glass enclosure, pining to be able to hold their delicate baby, but know they must wait for the right time when their baby will be old enough and strong enough to handle being touched and snuggled. This is not at all how the parents envisioned welcoming a child into the world.
During the first few weeks as new parents to a premature baby, these parents quickly learn the alarming statistics: 1 in 9 American babies are born preterm and it is 1 in 12 in Canada. Across the globe, they learn, 1 in 10 babies is born preterm. They also learn the alarming statistic, according to the World Health Organization, “Preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under 5 years of age, responsible for nearly 1 million deaths in 2013.”
Up until this point for these parents, prematurity was rarely, if ever, spoken of, and they felt completely unprepared for what was to come. In many ways they felt alone and isolated as they went through the upsetting experience of watching their baby fight to stay alive for days and weeks on end. They learned that prematurity can happen to anyone, anywhere. They learned prematurity is a worldwide problem, and they want to ensure other families are aware of prematurity and know where to get the support they need immediately.
This particular set of parents are lucky and their baby does survive; however, they know there are the one million babies in that year alone, that will not.
Because of stories like this, which impact so many families across the world, the concept of World Prematurity Day was born in 2008. And did you know the date of World Prematurity Day was chosen not due to the birthday of a premature child, but a full term child? A full term daughter born to a family who experienced the devastating loss of their preterm triplets a few years prior. This full term baby, who celebrates her 7th birthday today, symbolizes hope that even after the premature birth of a child and a loss, there is still the possibility for long, full term, healthy pregnancies and happy, healthy birthdays.
It is important that we, as the community and voices of prematurity, help spread the word about prematurity, including:
- promoting the importance of excellent prenatal care
- raising awareness about the importance of increased and ongoing educational opportunities for health care practitioners on the topics of prenatal care, preterm labour and preterm birth
- the need for continuous development of support systems for families going through the experience of premature birth during and after a neonatal intensive care stay
- encouraging educators and policy makers to understand the long term ramifications of prematurity that many children and their families may face in the years to come.
As a parent, family member or friend of a premature child, how will you help raise awareness today and in the future for the world’s most fragile children?
To learn more about World Prematurity Day, you can visit the following websites: