More than 500,000 babies are born prematurely every year in the United States. Research shows that the more preterm a baby is, the more severe his/her health problems and outcomes later in life are. Problems can range from jaundice to breathing problems and can include extended hospital stays for babies who are not severely premature. More serious complications can include intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, vision and hearing loss, feeding and digestive problems and other disorders for babies born much earlier.
Hospitals have highly developed facilities that provide care for preemies called Neonatal Critical Care Centers (NCCC) or Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU). There are more than 1,500 of these units in the United States that provide varying levels of critical care for newborns. When preemies need a higher level of care than their birth hospital can provide, they are transported to a hospital that is equipped to meet their medical needs. Unfortunately, this often creates an added difficulty for parents who have to travel miles away from their homes to visit and care for their preemie.
One of the first things that preemie parents deal with is understanding how or why it happened. Although there are cases where doctors are aware of the cause of the preterm delivery, studies from the Centers for Disease Control and the March of Dimes have shown that most preterm deliveries happen spontaneously and without a known cause.
Regardless of the cause, there are tools available to parents including:
- focusing on the health and wellbeing of the baby and his/her family
- providing skin to skin contact
- becoming well-informed, and
- seeking out a primary care pediatrician that can provide a family-centered medical home
Parents and families of preemies are encouraged to focus your efforts in these ways to improve your preemie’s chances for the best possible health outcomes later in life.
The unexpected preterm delivery of a newborn can be a scary event, but the high level of care and resources that are available can help. This website is intended to provide some of those resources. Its information can give you confidence in your understanding of what’s going on, ensuring that your preemie’s best interests are served.