World Prematurity Month - things to assist you with on your journey
Every year, 15 million babies are born prematurely – more than one in ten of all babies worldwide. And unfortunately, premature births are on the rise. The month of November is the dedicated month to show our compassion and support to those parents and little warriors that started their journey together in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
When infants are born prematurely or before 37 weeks, they face many immediate and lifelong health challenges. These little ones need loads of love and support, and World Prematurity Day, November 17th, is a day to bring awareness to them, their parents and the health care professionals who help to look after them.
No mother ever anticipates that something will go wrong and that her baby will be born too soon and placed in NICU. Many days and nights are spent in the NICU watching your little bundle through the glass of the incubator, breathing through a machine, attached to what seems to be too many needles and listening to the overwhelming sounds of machines beeping. This is a hardship experienced by many parents worldwide.
What should a parent of a premature baby know?
- Remember that your baby is under the care of dedicated health professionals who want to see your baby grow, get stronger and go home. As a parent you are an essential part of the NICU team so ask questions, learn what is happening and spend time getting to know your baby.
- Try to practice skin-to-skin contact or Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) as soon and as much as possible. It helps with bonding, increasing mothers’ breastmilk supply, calms and soothes the baby, temperature, breathing and heartbeat regulation and weight gain. Fathers, you can do it too! Ask the nurses or medical team to spend time doing KMC whenever you can, don’t wait for it to be offered.
- Optimal nutrition is vital for premature infants – both during their stay in the NICU and the months after to come. Premature infants are under a lot of stress and need a high supply of energy, protein and fats to ensure they continue to grow at the necessary rate. Whether you choose to express breastmilk or formula feed, your medical team will support you to ensure the most appropriate option.
- Breastmilk is important for all babies but especially for premature and sick newborns. It provides essential health benefits and acts as a medicine that only a mother can provide. Breastmilk expressed from the mother of a premature baby is tailored to the higher nutritional needs of their baby and is highly beneficial for their premature gut, immune system, growth and development. If you need help with feeding and/or expressing, a dietitian is trained to offer you guidance and support.
- Although breastmilk is the best nutritional choice for your baby, breastfeeding may not always be possible. If you have chosen to formula feed, your baby will receive a special formula developed for their nutritional needs. It is important to work with a dietitian when choosing a formula suitable for the needs during NICU and the months to come.
- When your baby is ready to go home, ensure that you book and stick to your regular follow-ups with your medical and nutrition team. Due to premature infants having higher nutritional needs, they need regular monitoring to ensure adequate weight gain, growth and development.
How to calculate your baby’s corrected age?
When a baby is born premature, they will have two ages: their corrected age and their chronological age. Your baby also had a gestational age, which was the age of your baby from conception to birth, calculated in weeks.
Chronological age is the actual age of your baby since birth. Corrected age is the age your baby would be if they had been born full term and is used to baby’s growth and development up until 2 years of age.
To calculate your baby’s corrected age, start with your baby’s chronological age in weeks (the number of weeks since birth) and subtract the number of weeks your baby was premature.
For example, Abby is currently 27 weeks old and was born at 25 weeks gestation (15 weeks early). Her corrected age is: 27 weeks - 15 weeks = 12 weeks or three months corrected.
Raia van Reenen is a Registered Dietitian in Cape Town with a special interest in infant and mother nutrition. For enquiries or support on the feeding or growth your premature infant, please contact her through her website or call 071 781 0588 for in-person and virtual bookings. You can also follow Raia @thrive.dietician on IG.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. MyMilkClub reserves the right to its opinions and fully supports the notion of promotion that breast is best in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) infant feeding guidelines. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life, and continued breastfeeding with complementary foods for up to two years of age. Breast milk is the best food for infants. Good maternal nutrition is essential to prepare and maintain breastfeeding. If breastfeeding is not possible, an infant formula may be used according to the advice of registered health professionals. Preparation and storage of any infant formula should be performed as directed on the tin in order not to pose any health hazards.