Premature Births

by Weam Namou

Baby Jude

My great nephew Jude was born last night, six weeks earlier than his due date. Good thing his mother, my niece and goddaughter, had the baby shower the Sunday before that. Initially the baby shower was scheduled for yesterday but the date was changed to accommodate a relative’s trip.

We went to visit Jude at the hospital but were not permitted to see him. Because he’s premature, he is placed in the intensive care unit and no one, not even his parents, are allowed to hold him. He is on IV and has not yet had anything to eat, poor thing.

Historical figures who were born prematurely include Johannes Kepler (born in 1571 at 7 months gestation), Isaac Newton (born in 1643, small enough to fit into a quart mug, according to his mother), Winston Churchill (born in 1874 at 7 months gestation), and Anna Pavlova (born in 1885 at 7 months gestation).

In the UK, the debate regarding resuscitation of babies born at 23 weeks was highlighted by Dr Daphne Austin, an NHS official who advised local health authorities on how to spend their budgets in 2011. She argued that babies born at 23 weeks should not be resuscitated because their chances of surviving are so slim and that there is sufficient evidence that keeping the babies alive can do more harm than good. UK official guidelines for pre-term babies state that medics should not attempt to resuscitate babies born before 22 weeks, as they are too under developed. Babies born between 22 and 25 weeks should be given intensive care as routine.

As a result of this decision, when Sarah Capewell gave live birth to her son at 21 weeks 5 days gestation, the baby boy was denied treatment. According to the mother, he was breathing unaided, had a strong heartbeat, and was even moving his arms and legs. If he had been born two days later, they would have treated him. However, untreated, he died in her arms within two hours of birth. This took place at James Paget Hospital in Gorleston, Norfolk, in October 2009.

She says that during her premature labor she was told that she was not allowed injections to try to stop the labor or a steroid injection to help strengthen her baby’s lungs because she had not reached 22 weeks into pregnancy. After her son’s birth, her increasingly desperate pleas to assist her baby were met with a brusque response from doctors, who said she should consider the labor as a miscarriage, rather than a birth.

Over 60% of preterm births occur in Africa and south Asia, but preterm birth is truly a global problem; countries with the highest numbers include Brazil, India, Nigeria and the United States of America. Over the past decade, some countries have halved deaths due to preterm birth by ensuring that health workers are skilled in the care of premature babies and by improving supplies of life-saving commodities and equipment. These include Ecuador, Oman, Sri Lanka and Turkey. In the wealthy world, the increase in premature births is linked to rising rates of diabetes and obesity, stress and other complications that require early delivery, often by C-section.

Thank God, my niece had a natural birth and the baby, at 6 lbs., 3ounces, will be just fine.