A typical full term pregnancy is 40 weeks. Premature babies are those born before 37 weeks. Worldwide, 13 million babies are born premature
. In the United States, 1 in 8 babies are born prematurely. Prematurity can lead to a host of lifelong cognitive, respiratory, vision, and digestive problems
. November 17 is World Prematurity Day
, devoted to raising awareness of the problems of as well as prevention of pre-term births.
On August 7, 1963, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy was born to President and Mrs. Kennedy about five and a half weeks early
. The baby survived only 39 hours. Medical care for premature babies has advanced significantly since then. The youngest premature baby known to have survived
is Amillia Taylor, born at 21 weeks and 6 days on October 25, 2006, weighing in at just 9 ounces.
Although healthcare for premature babies has improved, the number of premature births in the United States has risen by 36% over the last 25 years
. Premature birth is also the #1 cause of death of newborns in the United States. In 2006, about 19,000 babies died in their first month
Premature babies are often placed into Neonatal Intensive Care Units
. NICUs have a wide array of specialized equipment
for keeping preemies warm, for monitoring heart rates and respiratory rates, for helping preemies breathe, for managing intravenous lines into the baby, and for phototherapy to treat jaundice. Kangaroo care
is also an increasingly popular way of helping preemies. Developed in response to the high death rate in preterm babies in Columbia as well as a lack of money for purchasing equipment, researchers found that babies held close to their mothers' bodies for periods of time not only survived, but thrived.
For parents, having a premature baby can be difficult emotionally. It is common for parents to feel guilty, depressed, distanced from the baby, and at odds with the NICU staff
. Some parents are diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
because of the ordeal (previously on MeFi
). Social support by others who have faced the challenges of a NICU has been found to help reduce anxiety and depression. The March of Dimes also runs an online support site called shareyourstory.org
to help parents of premature babies.
Finally, there are a number of suggested steps
for minimizing the chance of having premature births
, including getting prenatal care, avoiding smoking and drinking of alcohol, and avoiding high levels of stress. Some new progesterone treatments
may also help prevent pre-term births.