Sunday, 17 November 2013

World Prematurity Day

Today, November 17th, is World Prematurity Day.

I feel a bit of a fraud including myself in today as World Prematurity Day naturally conjures up images of very tiny, sick babies, in incubators and covered in tubes.  However any baby born before 37 weeks is classed as premature and C was born at 35 weeks and 5 days, making her over a week premature.  I therefore feel we do have a story to tell today.

We are one of the lucky ones. despite the initial panic when my waters unexpectedly broke and I went into labour a few hours later, C was delivered apparently fit and healthy and needing no special care.  We were allowed home after 24 hours of monitoring and were informed that her blood sugar and other stats were better than a lot of full term babies.

We will never know why C decided to arrive early.  I was advised during labour that it was most likely due to an infection, however swabs taken before and after the birth showed this not to be the case.  I therefore wondered if it was a problem with me.  That I was unable to carry a baby to term, however as I am now 39 weeks pregnant with blue bump, this is obviously not the case.

Having said all of the above, C has not come away completely unscathed.  Her inguinal hernia that was operated on when she was 12 months old is very unusual in girls but when it does occur is most often linked to prematurity as the muscles in the groin are not fully developed.  Also her blocked tear ducts, that seem to hopefully be sorting themselves without intervention, are a common consequence of premature birth.  Neither of these conditions were life threatening but C has seen more specialists in her short little life than most children her age.

I remember reading an article soon after C's birth which stated how "The NHS spends one and a half times more on a premature baby on average during their lifetime than one born after 37 weeks".  At the time I thought we were an exception to the rule but actually as time has passed it has turned out the article has had an element of truth.  We have cost the NHS more than your average child and the issues C has faced are known consequences of premature birth.

The article argues that further research is needed into what causes premature birth so that it can be prevented and thus reduce costs for the NHS.  Would a better knowledge of what causes premature births mean my early labour could have been predicted and prevented?  It's possible, but by no means certain.  Would C not have needed additional medical care if she had been born at full term?  It's highly probable.

There are a lot of "ifs", "buts" and "maybes" here .  I do feel that seeing a midwife only every 4 weeks until 36 weeks of pregnancy is not enough, especially after 28 weeks.  A lot can change in 4 weeks during the third trimester, particularly with issues like pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes that should be regularly checked for.  It is possible that had I seen a midwife between 32 and 36 weeks she may have realised the baby had engaged early and therefore I was at a higher risk of preterm labour.  Having said that, this still would not have given us a cause, just maybe given medical staff the option to mitigate against the risk.  It is the policy of many hospitals, including mine, to actively try and prevent labour before 36 weeks gestation.  In my case 35+5 was decided to be so close to the 36 week cutoff that as my waters had already broken it would be safer just to let nature take its course.

Further research into premature birth is needed, but not just for a cost saving exercise.  These little human beings deserve the best start in life they can.  It has been proven that in the majority of cases that best start is to remain within their Mothers for as long as possible.  Any research that facilitates this should be welcomed.

This year 15 million babies will be born prematurely around the world, 60,000 right here in the UK.
On 17 November, World Prematurity Day, Bliss will join with other organisations around the globe to raise awareness.
Join them and help make a real difference to the lives of babies born too soon. Together we can be the voice for babies and their families, making sure their needs are heard around the world.


  1. Once a preemie always a preemie, a mom of a much littler preemie told me today. My girl was born at 34 weeks and is fabulous now at 4 and a half years old. But it was scary even so!