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18 November 2020
By SARAH MATTHEWS
Wimmera families and healthcare workers are among those who marked World Prematurity Day yesterday, honouring the struggles of premature babies and remembering those who lost their fight for life.
In Australia, about 27,000 babies are born premature – before 37 weeks’ gestation – each year, equating to almost nine percent of births.
About a quarter of preterm babies are born before 32 weeks.
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Wimmera Health Care Group nurse-midwife unit manager Michelle Coutts said World Prematurity Day, on November 17, was an important opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges and effects of preterm birth.
“The impact on parents and families when a baby is born prematurely is tremendous,” she said.
“In regional areas, a premature baby often has to be transferred to a larger unit for ongoing care and they might be ‘away from home’ for weeks or months.
“The social, mental and financial impact of this experience can take its toll on some families.”
The theme of World Prematurity Day 2020 is ‘Together for babies born too soon – Caring for the future’.
“The colour associated with the day is purple, which signifies sensitivity and exceptionality – two traits of a premature baby,” Mrs Coutts said. “Parents of a premature baby often wear purple on this day, or dress their baby in purple to signify these traits.”
She said although the COVID-19 pandemic had affected in-person celebrations, people and organisations such as Preterm Infants Parents Association Inc were using social media to help raise awareness.
Mrs Coutts said there were many common causes of premature birth, including multiple pregnancies such as twins; history of premature birth; conceiving through IVF; problems with the uterus or placenta; smoking or illicit drug use; infections; chronic illnesses; an over or underweight mother; stress; physical trauma; and miscarriage.
“Sometimes the cause is just unknown,” she said.
Health professionals have identified many short and long-term issues associated with being born prematurely, such as breathing difficulties; cardiac problems; poor feeding; poor ability to regulate temperature; immature immune system making them more prone to infections; and brain bleeding and seizures.
Mrs Coutts said treatment often depended on how premature the baby was at birth and the exact problems it was facing.
“Treatment might involve medications, intravenous therapy, respiratory support or surgery – or a combination of these,” she said.
“Some babies are cared for in special care nurseries or neonatal intensive care units; it all depends on their age and what support and treatment they need.”
Mrs Coutts said parents of premature or sick babies could benefit from resources including Life’s Little Treasures Foundation, founded in 2005.
She said the foundation had done ‘an enormous amount of work to develop resources specifically for parents of premature babies’.
She said parents might find it difficult to adjust to unexpectedly giving birth to a premature or sick baby.
“This experience is not what expectant parents imagine when it comes to having a baby,” she said.
“A premature baby is born and they and their parents are suddenly thrust into a world of machines, monitors, medical professionals and conversations in words that are not often understood.
“It can be overwhelming for parents to work out what is going on and what to do.
“In my experience, it has been amazing to watch the parents of many premature babies I have cared for over my years as a midwife.
“Often these parents are stronger characters than they ever knew they were and to watch their attentiveness, love and strength as their baby grows is inspiring.”
The entire November 18, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!