Premature Babies—Meeting the Challenge
KELLY is eight years old now, and the accompanying picture shows that she is a happy, healthy child. Truly, this is remarkable when you consider that she was born 14 weeks premature and weighed only 1 pound 12 ounces [794 g]! Prior to the mid-1960’s, rarely, if ever, did an infant born so early and so small survive.
But in what ways does a premature baby differ from a full-term infant? The tiny size is the most obvious difference. Also, the baby’s delicate skin may appear pink and sort of thin; minute veins may even be visible. And depending on how early this little one came, it may have some very fine hair on its face or body. This will soon disappear.
Further, the baby’s head may seem a trifle large in proportion to the rest of the body, but this is nothing to be alarmed about. As the baby approaches its full-term-delivery date, it will acquire more fat and begin manifesting the more symmetrical appearance of a full-term babe.
As to any special needs that the tiny tot may have, these range from few to many. Each case is different. But milestones have been reached. Modern technology along with devoted hospital personnel and a superabundance of TLC from parents have resulted in a remarkable survival rate.
What Parents Can Do
Parents, you especially can do much for your premature newborn. Naming the child soon after birth is encouraged, as this draws parents and infant close together in a relationship that actually enhances the progress of the “earlycomer.” After the baby’s condition is stabilized, a foremost concern is to establish physical contact with the infant.
Caressing, gently stroking, and lightly massaging the baby’s skin may be appropriate, particularly if the baby cannot be held as yet. And what could be more reassuring to the little one than to hear mom and dad’s voices expressed in soft humming, sweet lullabies, or whispered words of endearment? On the other hand, when the baby is very premature, there is reason for caution. “They’re easily overwhelmed, and they crash,” says Dr. Peter A. Gorski, who spent two years recording preemie behavior. “I’ve had babies so overtaxed by the social interaction of eye contact that they go limp. What seems kindly to us may not always be best.”
Visiting the baby as often as possible will certainly help to strengthen your relationship with him. If, because of circumstances, you are not able to visit your little one physically, tape recordings of family members talking and other home sounds can be sent to the hospital for your baby to hear. An article of clothing from mother, which even though laundered still retains her unique scent, might be placed in the incubator, or isolette. Some have set a picture of mom, dad, or brothers and sisters about ten inches [25 cm] from the baby.
Consider the situation of Elise, who, in 1971, arrived ten weeks earlier than had been expected. She weighed 3 pounds 5 ounces [1,500 g]. Her parents were permitted to visit her only twice a week. Her mother, Betty, observes: “I did not have the closeness with Elise that I had with my first baby and the three children born after her.” Yet, Betty explains: “Through the years we have grown close, and Elise has turned out to be one of the most helpful and pleasant of the children.”
Mother can provide the perfect food for the premature baby, her breast milk. Canadian scientists in Toronto found that milk of mothers of preemies is different in composition from milk of mothers of full-term infants, and prematures fare better with it. According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, “the premature infant [is] better able to use the protein and other nutrients of breast milk for growth.”
What Others Can Do
Are you a friend or a relative of a preemie’s parents? If so, there is much you can do. There are groceries to be bought, meals to be cooked, housework to be done, clothing to be laundered, and perhaps other children to be cared for. Your support in these mundane matters can be most helpful to parents who must make frequent and often long trips to visit their baby in a neonatal intensive care unit.
Christy, the mother of an infant born over five weeks early, said that her Christian brothers and sisters supplied all of the above. “They were a constant source of joy and strength to us in those first few weeks,” she said.
Support can also be given by sending cards and gifts. The gifts may include anything you would obtain for a full-term infant. The size of the infant must be taken into consideration, of course. Preemie-size disposable or cloth diapers are available, as well as preemie patterns and clothing.
Emotional support cannot be overemphasized. Be positive and optimistic. Kelly’s mom, Mary, said: “I needed people to be encouraging and say upbuilding things. I hated it when some would say, ‘Don’t get too attached.’ I thrived on hope.” One Scriptural thought that sustained her is found at Isaiah 41:13: “For I, Jehovah your God, am grasping your right hand, the One saying to you, ‘Do not be afraid. I myself will help you.’”
Visits by Christian elders from Mary’s congregation were most uplifting. Both mothers, Christy and Mary, said that the support they received from their husbands was immeasurable and that the experience drew them closer together.
Prevention—The Wise Course
There is wisdom in expending more effort in trying to prevent premature births rather than in simply caring for preemies afterward. According to one study made in the United States, for every hour a pregnancy between 24 and 28 weeks is prolonged, $150 is saved in hospital care. So it would be beneficial to include information on premature births in your “prenatal library” and to have a plan of action ready in case a premature birth occurs. But more importantly, a prospective mother should try to prevent having a premature birth.
First, a pregnant woman should not smoke. Smoking during pregnancy evidently damages fetal arteries, according to a report in Medical World News. A Cornell University professor commented: “That fetal vessels are injured, I think, goes along with what we know about the low birthweights and high incidence of congenital malformations and premature separations among babies of women who smoke.”
Second, if you are pregnant, you should steer clear of overly strenuous activities, such as heavy lifting. Third, avoid situations that may cause physical or emotional trauma. The Bible tells how a physical injury or devastating news can precipitate a birth.—Exodus 21:22; 1 Samuel 4:19.
If you are at high risk of delivering a preemie, you should consult with a person, such as an obstetrician, who has had experience in caring for pregnant women. Women at high risk include those who previously have given birth to a premature child, those who are carrying more than one child, those who are over 40 years of age or are teenagers, and those who use alcoholic beverages immoderately. Among other things that put a woman in the high-risk category are high blood pressure, diabetes, and abnormalities of the placenta. Such women need to have their pregnancy monitored more closely. Be sure to observe a proper prenatal diet to ensure the best possible health for you and your baby.
Yet, even though a prospective mother does everything possible to ensure a normal delivery, there are no guarantees. Premature births are all too common, and they appear to be increasing in number. But what about the future? Is there any prospect for correcting this defect in the human reproductive system?