Preemies. They are tiny, vulnerable and born fighters. But they need a lot of help.
On Monday, November 17th, Newfoundland and Labrador joined with countries around the world to officially recognize World Prematurity Day, a day set aside to promote awareness and understanding of premature birth, and its impact on individuals, families and the healthcare system.
With that in mind, the Perinatal Program of Newfoundland and Labrador (PPNL), along with representatives from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Janeway, launched a campaign to increase public awareness of premature birth and celebrate the tiniest (and often feistiest) patients in our healthcare system!
On the 17th, the staff and families of the Janeway’s NICU gathered in the Janeway Café to recognize World Prematurity Day. Nearly 200 staff and families wore purple t-shirts and joined forces to celebrate our tiniest patients.
The babies in NICU joined in the celebration as well (from their beds in NICU) by sporting hand knit purple hats for the day.
Prematurity – facts and factors
Any baby that is born more than three weeks before the mother’s due date is considered premature. Globally, more than 15 million babies are born too soon every year, and over 1 million of these will die as a result of complications of prematurity.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, 1 of every 12 babies is born too soon. In many cases, there is no absolute cause or medical treatment that can prevent pre-term delivery, but there are ways that a mother can reduce her risk.
Being born prematurely increases the risk for a number of health concerns for the infant, including:
- breathing difficulties,
- poor temperature control,
- infection, and
- hypoglycemia, just to mention a few.
Prevention and pre-planning
Dr. Geoffrey Downton, a neonatologist at the Janeway NICU, says raising public awareness in the child-bearing population is crucial to combatting the problem of premature birth in our province.
“Women need to be aware that there are ways they can reduce their risk of delivering an infant prematurely before they even get pregnant, when they are in the planning stage,” he added.
“A healthy lifestyle before you are pregnant will reduce the risk of having a preterm baby once pregnancy occurs. This includes a well-balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular physical activity and quitting smoking or other recreational substance use.”
Social media, family physicians and public awareness campaigns all play a role in providing this important information – and offer the best chance of reducing some of the preterm births in our province. For more information, check out www.easternhealth.ca/b4urpregnant
Once you are pregnant
Clare Bessell, an Obstetrical Educator with the PPNL, says there are other ways to reduce the risk of preterm delivery, after you become pregnant. ‘Maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout your pregnancy and following regular pre-natal care is essential,” she says. “However, it is also important not to rush the date of delivery if you have a healthy pregnancy, and to wait until labour begins on its own.
“Early elective Caesarean Section or induction of labour before 40 weeks gestation should only be performed if medically necessary, in order to allow the baby time for optimal organ development.”
If a baby is born prematurely and needs to stay in the NICU, parents are encouraged to participate in the care of their child as much as possible.
“There are so many things that only parents can provide,” says Dr. Julie Emberley, a neonatologist at the Janeway. “For example, a mother’s breast milk is the best source of nutrition for premature babies and helps protect them against infections and a serious bowel condition called necrotizing enterocolitis,” she added.
“We also know that babies who spend more time being held skin-to-skin by their caregivers gain weight faster and go home from hospital earlier.”
Past and current families of the NICU were invited to submit photos for a display at the November 17th event. Photos of past preemies show just how far they’ve come and how much they’ve grown since graduating from the NICU.
Also on hand for the occasion were Stephanie Eason, a registered nurse at the Janeway, and her daughter Ashley – who was born at 27 weeks gestation in 1996. Ashley graduated from high school this year and is currently attending Memorial University.
As for Reece and Finley – our Prematurity Day ‘banner babies?’ We were disappointed that they didn’t make it to Monday’s celebration – but the reason seemed very fitting: happily, they had been discharged from the NICU just that morning – two beautiful, healthy, growing boys! We wish them all the best as they begin their lives in their own home, together with mom Rebecca and dad Kirk.
To round out the day, two of our province’s most famous landmarks – Signal Hill and Confederation Building – were lit up in purple to recognize World Prematurity Day – and to shine a light on this important child health issue.
Just as teamwork is essential in the delivery of health care, it’s also important as we highlight specific issues and special occasions like World Prematurity Day.
Many thanks to our partners who helped make this day a success: the Perinatal Program of Newfoundland and Labrador; staff and families of the Janeway NICU; R&S Screen Printers; Signal Hill National Historic Site; Honourable Ministers David Brazil and Steve Kent; the Billard family; our purple hat knitters Respiratory Therapist Melanie Drover and her mom; Susan White and Clare Bessell, and from the Memorial University HSIMS department: graphic designer Jennifer Armstrong and photographers Terry Upshall and John Crowell. ■
This story was written by Darlene Toope, RN, Clinical Educator, NICU, Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre.