World Prematurity Day, which is observed across the globe on November 17, is an occasion to gain greater awareness into the prevalence of preterm births, whose number has remained alarmingly high.
The campaign is led by March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the health of babies worldwide, by conducting research aimed at curbing infant mortality, premature births and birth defects.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated, approximately 1 in 10 of the babies born in the United States were delivered prematurely in 2014. This means that on a daily basis, around 41,000 babies are born before the completion of 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Across the world, the situation is even more alarming, a total of 15 million infants being born at overly early gestational ages. Premmies are especially common in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where 60% of the total number of premature births occur.
As shown by the latest “Global Action report on Preterm Birth”, the highest rate of premature births is encountered in Malawi (18.1%), while in the US the percentage is at around 12%.
Preterm births represent the most significant factor resulting in infant mortality, being responsible for 35% of the number of deaths among newborns, and 15% of total deaths among children across the world.
Around 1 million babies die every year, especially when fewer than 32 weeks of pregnancy have passed. In addition, premature births are the source of other severe, long-term disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, developmental delays, brain damage, vision and hearing impairment etc.
Health experts argue that around three-quarters of the infants who are born prematurely could experience more positive outcomes, provided that medical care before and after birth was superior.
For example, they recommend applying the “kangaroo mother care” technique, which encourages mothers to breastfeed and to keep their newborns close to their skin.
This allows young children to stay warm, and it also prompts mothers to nurse them more frequently, which significantly improves their chances of survival.
Similarly, medical practitioners are advised to use chlorhexidine on the baby’s umbilical cord in order to limit the risk of infection, and to assist the premmie’s breathing, so as to diminish the possibility of birth asphyxia.
On November 17, iconic man-made structures such as the Heidelberg Castle in Germany, the Empire State Building in New York City and Bosphorus Bridge in Turkey will be lit in purple, given the fact that this is the official color to mark World Prematurity Day.
For this occasion, March of Dimes has also published a list of recommendations meant to lower the incidence of preterm births, to around 5.5% by the year 2030.
For example, as explained by Dr. Edward McCabe, the organization’s medical director, it is advisable that a period of at least 18 months should pass between one birth and the following pregnancy, in order to allow the mother to carry the newly developed fetus to term.
Moreover, women who wish to remain pregnant should quit smoking, and avoid cigarettes throughout their entire pregnancy, because this habit results in the infant having a low weight at birth.
In addition, the “Prematurity Campaign Roadmap” suggests that teen pregnancies should be avoided, nutritious diets should be maintained throughout pregnancy, and barring a medical emergency, elective deliveries shouldn’t be performed until 39 weeks have passed.
Last but not least, expectant mothers with high risk pregnancies should be administered aspirin in low doses, to reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia, while those who have already had preterm births should undergo progesterone replacement therapy.
Image Source: March of Dimes