Premature Babies: Ready or Not, Here I Come!
Dessina King, LPN
This is a series of articles about Premature Babies & Parenting. This is a topic near and dear to my heart, after the birth of my son nearly 7 years ago. Nathan was born at 24-weeks of gestation, weighing 1 lb 11 oz. He encountered almost every “preemie” condition there was, and still left the hospital before his due date. Today, he is growing by leaps and bounds.
As I reflect, I realize that there was no “GPS” through this experience. Everything I learned was firsthand, on- the- job training. Even though I was a pediatric nurse at the time, I was Nathan‘s mother first. It is my desire with this series to give parents an insight on what to expect and who you can rely on during this journey.
The textbook length of a pregnancy is 40-weeks gestation. Any delivery before 36-weeks is considered premature. Premature births plague African American families all over this country and cross all levels of education and socioeconomic status. No one is exempt. In the African American community, it is reported that there are at least 100,000 babies born prematurely every year.
Reasons for this staggering statistic are still unclear. There are many health conditions prevalent in our community that make carrying a pregnancy to 40 weeks difficult ( i.e. diabetes, hypertension). But there are many pregnancies that go well resulting in successful deliveries of healthy babies in patients with these high-risk conditions. Therefore, trying to pin-point the exact cause for premature births among African-American moms is still a mystery of sorts.
Parenting doesn’t start when you get home from the hospital with your baby, it begins when you find out you’re pregnant.
You’ve done everything right, followed doctor’s orders by taking your prenatal vitamins, eating right, getting plenty of rest, and now you find yourself in the delivery room before you’ve even had a baby shower.
This is where the emotional rollercoaster begins. You are experiencing a myriad of emotions coupled with the physiological changes of just having given birth. There are no books or guidelines to tell you the next step. The healthcare professionals in what is now your new home-the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), will help you navigate through the process of what will happen to the baby as a patient, but your needs as a parent are often times not met at all. This is certainly not due to any deficiency of the department, but their focus is on getting your little one healthy and home.
There are now programs on the horizon that help get new parents and siblings through the NICU experience, as well as chaplains for spiritual guidance, social workers for issues that may arise regarding insurance, and community resources for the coordination of care upon discharge. This is the time to call in those favors of support from your friends and family.
While you are at the bedside of your little one there is a sense of helplessness, but these are the times when as the parent, you can do something no one else can. This child knew your voice first. You can whisper into their ear that you are there and that you love them. Let them know that you are fighting for them. It has also been shown to be beneficial in their recovery to read and sing softly to them.
Kangaroo-care may be introduced once your baby is stable. This is when you hold your baby (skin-to-skin) on your bare chest. It is a great time for parent and baby to bond, since it is often delayed by tubing, machines, IVs and possibly a ventilator. Research shows that skin-to-skin contact and parent/baby bonding promotes healing, weight gain, improved respiratory effort, and heart rate all of which leads to shorter NICU stays.
Every premature baby’s course in the NICU is different. But it is important to remain vigilant and ask questions. Always ask questions. Knowledge is power. The more you know the more confident you feel about your child’s well-being. You are your baby’s primary advocate, always.
The March of Dimes is an organization designed to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality. For more information check them out online at: http://www.marchofdimes.com.
Be sure to check out Part 2: We’re Home! Now what?
Dessina is a nurse at a Family Practice office in York, SC. She is raising her bright and loving 6 ½ year old son with her husband Jonathan.