November 17th was World Prematurity Day. Even though that day has come and gone on our calendars it doesn’t change the fact that preemie awareness is a very important issue. Every year 13 MILLION babies worldwide are born premature with more than 1/2 a million premature births occurring in the United States. And even scarier is the fact that premature births are the leading cause of neonatal death – yet so many people are still lacking awareness concerning such an important matter.
For instance, 3 in 10 mothers of preemies weren’t aware of the possibility of a premature birth until they had their first child.
Not to mention that 75% of parents don’t even know the definition of prematurity– being born at or before 37 weeks gestation age.
I have been blessed to have three full term babies. Alleigh was born at 38.5 weeks, Kaelyn at 38 weeks, and Willow at one day shy of 40 weeks. And even though my girls were all full term I made sure to be educated on the risks that come with premature birth as well as the specialized health care that preemies often require. Why? Because a premature birth can happen to anyone! Just because Alleigh and Kaelyn were full term did not mean that Willow would be and so it is very important to educate yourself.
The main thing to understand is that prematurity disrupts a baby’s development in the womb, often stunting the growth of some of the body’s most critical organs such as the lungs. These babies are at an increased risk of serious medical complications and can face weeks to months in the NICU. And getting discharged from the NICU does not mean a preemie is completely out of danger – because their immune systems and lungs aren’t fully developed this means preemies are more likely to develop infections and are more susceptible to respiratory problems. Another startling fact – 79 percent of preemie moms have a baby who was hospitalized due to a severe respiratory infection.
One virus that all parents, but especially parents of preemies, should be aware of is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Nearly all children contract RSV by the time they are two years old, but in most full term babies the symptoms are merely that of a common cold. I was never so thankful that Willow decided to bake to nearly 40 weeks as I was when she contracted RSV. Her case of RSV was a little worse than that of a typical full term baby since she was so young – roughly 2 months old – and required breathing treatments because she also had bronchiolitis. Luckily she responded well to the breathing treatments and nursed great through the whole ordeal so we were able to avoid hospitalization. I know how scared I was through everything, so I can only image what would be going through the mind of a preemie parent since their little ones are at risk for developing much more serious symptoms, including a serious respiratory infection (severe RSV disease) from the virus due to their underdeveloped lungs and lack of antibodies needed to fight off infection which can ultimately lead to death.
FACTS EVERY PARENT SHOULD KNOW ABOUT RSV:
RSV is the leading cause of infant hospitalization, and severe RSV disease causes up to 10 times as many infant deaths each year as the flu.
RSV is most prevalent during the winter months. The CDC has defined the “RSV season” as beginning in November and lasting through March for most parts of North America.
In addition to prematurity, common risk factors include low birth weight, certain lung or heart diseases, a family history of asthma and frequent contact with other children.
PREVENTION IS KEY:
RSV is very contagious and can be spread easily through touching, sneezing and coughing. Since there’s no treatment for RSV, parents should take the following preventive steps to help protect their child:
1.) Wash hands, toys, bedding, and play areas frequently.
2.) Ensure you, your family, and any visitors in your home wash their hands or use hand sanitizer.
3.) Avoid large crowds and people who are or have been sick.
4.) Never let anyone smoke near your baby.
5.) Speak with your child’s doctor if he or she may be at high risk for RSV, as a preventive therapy may be available
KNOW THE SYMPTOMS:
Contact your child’s pediatrician immediately if your child exhibits one or more of the following:
1.) Severe coughing, wheezing or rapid gasping breaths.
2.) Blue color on the lips, mouth, or under the fingernails.
3.) High fever and extreme fatigue.
I wrote this review while participating in a campaign for Mom Central Consulting on behalf of MedImmune and I received a promotional item to thank me for my participation.