Today is World Prematurity Day which aims to raise awareness of the numbers of babies born prematurely each year and the problems that these babies may face. According to the figures on the Bliss website, approximately 15 million babies are born prematurely each year, 1 million of which do not survive. The European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants (EFCNI) states that 1 in 10 babies are born prematurely and that premature babies represent the largest group of child patients.
I was one of those premature babies. My twin and I were born two months early, weighing just 3lb each and spent the first 6 weeks of our lives in hospital. My parents were told to prepare themselves for the likelihood of losing one or both of us, particularly the smaller twin (me). Thankfully, my parents were able to take both of us home and neither of us had any medical problems as a result. We were lucky.
Nowadays, survival rates for premature babies are much higher than they were back then – advances in medical technology and routine use of antenatal steroids (to help lung development in babies who need to be delivered early) have helped babies survive at very early gestations although sadly there are many babies who do not survive despite the best attempts of the medical staff. Premature babies are also more likely to have learning or behavioural disabilities or other long-term medical concerns.
Whilst neither of my babies were born prematurely, I do know what it is to sit by an intensive care cot with a very sick newborn baby, desperately praying that all will be well. Being in an intensive care unit can be a real rollercoaster ride and things can change very quickly – one minute things are looking encouraging, the next there is a cause for concern. It is a frightening and anxious time for parents.
The charity Bliss works to help provide care and support for premature babies born in the UK and their families. More information about the work they do can be found on their website.