Today, Nov. 17, 2011, is World Prematurity Day, a day when we try to bring awareness to the plight of premature babies (and their families). Recently, I was discussing prematurity and the discussion of "full term", "post dates", and "prematurity" were all on the table. It's funny to believe that eons ago, a human was expected to bake around 10 months or 40-42 weeks (from conception, not LMP dating). Then, we decided that 38-40 weeks (conception dating) was full term, then that became LMP dating, which deducted another 2 weeks. And then, we expanded the range from 37+ LMP weeks as full term, which, in theory means that the newly "full term" born human is actually about 5 weeks premature. First five weeks? Babies are learning how to hold their necks up, breast (or bottle) feed, sleep, roll... Things that newborns of other species have us beat on... Not that anyone is keeping score (or are they???). It's crazy when we think about that special first 5-6 weeks of the full-term newborn... What would that be like if, evolutionary wise, we still carried our babies that long?
But when most people think of premature, they are thinking of prior to 37 weeks. You have your "late preterm" (typically 32-36 weekers), your "preterm" (28-31 weekers), your "premature" (25-27 weekers), your "micropreemies" (22-24 weekers), and then the "severely preterm" (2nd trimester born alive babies through 21 weeks) who very rarely survive. (I only know of one 21 weeker who has survived and is now 4 years old, although I'm sure there are more).
We humans need that third trimester- and all (or at the very least most) of it- in order to get the best we can of our life on the inside. Many organizations are calling for better prenatal health and education to try and force down the statistics of prematurity. They are asking that doctors not schedule C-sections or induce prior to 42 LMP weeks (some places stop at 40 weeks), unless there is a significant medical (read: NOT SCHEDULE) based need. Will that happen? Who knows... What is clear is that we arent, in my lifetime at least, going to wipe it out completely. Issues like IC, HELLP, Pre-eclampsia, TTTS, and other life-threatening (to mother or child) issues will always be there and until we can wipe those off the map, premature babies will be the victims of issues beyond modern medicine's control, and all we will be able to do is mitigate the issues that follow.
It will always break my heart to know that Nicholas, Sophia, and Alexander were born too soon for the "mechanical womb" of the NICU to save, even as I also know that a mechanical womb (today at least) cant replicate for babies what a mother's womb provides... That birth is the culmination of life in the womb and trying to fix that when the womb goes defunct for a day or a lifetime doesnt stop the effects that prematurity can have. I am eternally grateful for the NICU (and its doctors and nurses) who saved Bobby and Maya and supported their journey into a healthy infant and now toddler hood. There aren't words for our family's gratefulness to them... But when you think that 1 out of 13 premature babies will die... That birth before 37 weeks gestation is THE #1 KILLER of babies... There aren't words for that either...
It's my dream that one day the world wont need a prematurity awareness day... That, one day, we will have the technology available to save mothers the ache of birthing perterm babies at any stage of prematurity... That babies wont have to struggle in order to live... But until that day comes, we owe it to each and every one of them- those who died, those who live with severe disabilities, those who live with handicaps we cant see, and those who live with good health- to educate ourselves and those aware us. To make this issue known. To make sure that preventable cases of prematurity are prevented and to do our best to mitigate those that arent preventable. One day at a time, one step at a time. Thirteen MILLION babies are born prematurely each year and one million babies die every year because of prematurity; one day, let's drop that number to less than one.
Give the voiceless a voice. Blog it. Speak up. Educate.
I am a preemie who gave birth to preemies. I long for a world where my children can say "I am a preemie who was able to give my children the fullness of life in the womb." It may not happen, but it is my dream and my hope for my children and their children and their children... And yours.
World Prematurity Day on Facebook
March of Dimes: World Prematurity Day
EFCNI Prematurity Awareness
For those in the United States...
In 2006, Congress passed the PREEMIE Act (P.L. 109-450), which expanded research and developed a public-private agenda aimed at reducing preterm labor and delivery. Since passage, the U.S. has seen a decline in preterm birth for three years in a row. The PREEMIE Act needs to be reauthorized in order to continue the important work that is under way. If enacted, the PREEMIE Reauthorization Act (S. 1440/ H.R. 2679) will enhance research, education and interventionactivities aimed at improving pregnancy outcomes. Show your support for World Prematurity Day by calling your Members of Congress now and urging them to cosponsor the PREEMIE Reauthorization Act of 2011 (S. 1440/ H.R. 2679).