One in every eight babies born in the United States, which is around 543,000 a year, is born prematurely (March of Dimes). Prematurity is when a baby is born before 37 weeks gestation and can cause severe illness and complications that could affect the baby’s health in the future and their survival. A baby born before 25 weeks gestation or with severe defects has a 100% chance of mortality if there isn’t aggressive medical involvement (March of Dimes). If the baby survives, it is almost certain the baby will suffer from some sort of disability. Prematurity can cause distress to a baby’s brain and central nervous system that may lead to permanent damage. Many studies have revealed certain factors to be a possible cause of prematurity; however, in about 40% of premature births, the cause is uncertain (March of Dimes). Because the cause of premature birth is unknown, prematurity is a constant battle, and the consequences can have detrimental effects on the baby, causing them to fight for survival and then possibly live a life with medical complications.
As a volunteer with the March for Babies to help raise funds to help fight against prematurity, I felt that it is necessary to fully understand what prematurity is and what effects it can have on babies. I also have become more passionate about raising money for the March for Babies since I have been working closely with babies in the hospital. I am a newborn photographer, and I often take photos of premature babies, and I see the struggle they endure. I also witness the sadness the parents feel as they watch their child fight for his life. After completion of my research, I feel that I have a full understanding of the complications prematurity causes, not only for the baby, but for the parents. One must fully understand the problem of prematurity before the problem can be solved and the lives of babies can be saved.
According to the March of Dimes, “Premature birth is a complex problem with no single solution” and is “the number 1 killer of newborns”. Specific causes of premature birth are uncertain, but there are factors that can increase the risk of preterm labor. Women who have had a previous preterm baby or previous pregnancies that ended in abortion or miscarriage increase their chances of premature birth. Smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, drug use, and stress can also increase the chances of preterm labor. High blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, malnutrition, or infections are also risk factors (Mayo Clinic). As reported by the Mayo Clinic Staff, “Preterm labor and premature birth can happen to anyone. In fact, many women who have a premature birth have no known risk factors” (Mayo Clinic). Because most causes are unknown, it is difficult to know when a woman will go into preterm labor; let alone prevent it. This is a major concern for parents, scientists, and doctors, which is reason that more research is needed by the March for Babies.
It is heartbreaking to be a parent of a premature baby. I see parents who spend day and night at their baby’s incubator, while sleeping in rocking chairs anticipating news that their baby’s health is improving. The mother’s life is put on hold as she temporarily moves into the small section designated for her baby. Although the hospital does not require the parents to be present, most choose to be by their baby’s side. Often mothers blame themselves for this misfortune. Even if the mother did everything right within her pregnancy, the chance of preterm labor is still there. Timothy Smith describes his first look at his daughter as “monitors and tubes everywhere, almost to the point I couldn’t see her face” and “her skin was purple, enveloping a pencil-thin frame”(5). One can only imagine how helpless parents must feel as they watch their child hang on to life by a thread. Prematurity physically affects a baby as it takes an emotional toll on the parents, and as Pauline Mifflin, a medical assistant and certified midwife, explains in her book Saving Very Premature Babies: Key Ethical Issues, “despite major advances in treatments for premature babies, doctors still have not managed to stem the rising tide of premature births” ( 9). Granted, there are many medical advances that have allowed babies to survive that otherwise would have died; prevention would be the best cure for prematurity.
One of the major causes of serious illness in newborn babies is prematurity, which can result in serious complications with the baby’s lungs, brain, and heart. Because a premature baby’s lungs are not fully developed, there are many concerns with the complications of immature lungs (American Pregnancy Association). Respiratory Distress Syndrome causes harsh, irregular breathing due to the tiny sacs in the lungs collapsing, and Transient Tachypnea causes rapid shallow breathing. Apnea is the absence of breathing. Babies with breathing difficulties are put on ventilators to help them breathe, and sometimes their lungs cannot withstand the constant pressure of the respirator. This can cause deterioration of the lungs, also known as Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (American Pregnancy Association). With all the respiratory problems premature babies endure, they also can develop pneumonia. Pauline Mifflin claims, “Unfortunately for some babies, their lungs have suffered too much initial damage or are too immature, and death is inevitable” (24). Premature babies can also suffer from Intraventricular hemorrhage, which is bleeding in the brain caused by immature blood vessels that cannot handle the changes in circulation that occur during labor (American Pregnancy Association). Not only do premature babies suffer from complications in the brain and lungs, they can have conditions with their eyes, digestive system, heart, and liver. As if that was not enough to worry about, infections are also very common in premature babies. Pauline Mifflin explains “predicting the outcome for individual babies is still very difficult because of the number of uncertainties and exceptions surrounding their care” (25). Each premature baby is different and determining what complications and results a baby will have is intricate.
A premature baby’s medical complications do not end once he leaves the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). According to Geeta Swamy, a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine, "When a baby is born pre-term we tend to focus on the short-term risk of complications”; however, “that risk continues into adolescence” (Laurance) . Intraventricular hemorrhaging can result in cerebral palsy, mental retardation and learning difficulties. Cerebral Palsy is usually not diagnosed until the child is 2 or 3 years of age (American Pregnancy Association). According to the American Pregnancy Association, “Premature babies who weigh less than 3 1/3 pounds are up to 30 times more likely to develop cerebral palsy than full-term babies” (American Pregnancy Association). Some complications due to prematurity do not show up until adulthood, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (American Pregnancy Association).
The complications of premature birth do not end after NICU. A premature baby can suffer for a lifetime resulting in physical and emotional stress for the child as well as the parents. Premature birth takes the lives of many babies, and for the survivors, it can mean lifelong illnesses. Although there are many risk factors that cause preterm labor, more information and research is needed to fully understand the cause and prevention of prematurity. It is a serious health concern that affects half a million babies in the United States alone, and not knowing the cause, creates a more difficult battle to fight, not only for the baby, but for the parents. The need to know how to prevent prematurity is necessary so that babies can have a chance at life, a healthy life nonetheless.
You can donate to help save babies lives through the 'March for Babies' by clicking here
Works Cited:Laurance, Jeremy. Premature Babies Face Lifelong Health Problems. 26 March 2008. Web. 26 May 2011
March of Dimes. http://www.marchofdimes.com. 2011. 01 05 2011
Mifflin, Pauline Challinor. Saving Very Premature Babies: Key Ethical Issues. Edinburgh: Books for Midwives, 2003. Print (7-29).
"Premature Birth Complications" American Pregnancy Association. Web. 25 May 2011. http://www.americanpregnancy.org/labornbirth/complicationspremature.htm.
"Premature birth: Complications" Mayo Clinic. 5 Nov. 2010. Web. 25 May 2011. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/premature-birth/DS00137/DSECTION=complications.
Smith, Timothy. Miracle Birth Stories of Very Premature Babies: Little Thumbs Up!. Westport, Conn: Bergin & Garvey, 1999. Print.