For many friends, parents, or family members, “what is prematurity?” is a pressing question. It arises from people who either have a preemie in their lives or have heard that difficult pregnancy is at a high risk for prematurity.

What is prematurity?

A full term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. Premature babies, or preemies, are babies born before 37 weeks.

What percentage of births are considered premature?

Approximately 8 to 10 percent of all births in the United States, about 400,000 babies, are premature; because they are born before fully maturing, preemies tend to weigh much less than full term babies.

What does the neonatal intensive care unit do?

What is prematurity, it is when a baby is born too soon. The first few minutes after birth are therefore most critical minutes as the baby has to be able to function on its own. Having been taken out of the mother’s womb too early, the baby misses out on vital development time.

Babies who are born prematurely – also called preemies – will need specialized care from neonatologists (doctors who specialize in premature births), neonatal nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, physical and speech therapists, neonatal nurses, dietitians and lactation specialists. Together this team of professionals will develop a plan of care that will nurse the baby back to health so that the baby can be discharged to home.

What is the danger of having a premature birth?

Preemies are prone to complications such as respiratory distress syndrome and infections, and often spend weeks or months in a neonatal intensive care unit; because their organs haven’t fully developed.  Preemies can also suffer from life-long physical, social, and learning disabilities, as well as brain damage (including cerebral palsy), digestive problems, hearing and vision loss.

Premature birth is the number one killer of newborns in America; 13.5 percent of babies born in Florida are pre-term, which is higher than the national average.

Premature birth takes an enormous toll on families and costs society billions of dollars each year.  Most people are unaware of this common, serious, and costly problem.

How does having a baby change your life?

Many parents to be and others that are not parents ask themselves,” How does having a baby change your life?” Having a baby is a life changing experience that compares to no other.  As parents you trade late night outings for late night feedings, trips to the spa, convert in trips to the park, your once tiny designer bag, becomes a large diaper bag and your little two-seater sports car, becomes an SUV or minivan.  As parents you learn to adapt to maybe earlier bed times, family centered activities and socializing with parents having babies. But what happens when you have a baby that is a preemie?

What is prematurity? It is a challenging situation for many families and their newborns. What it means is that support and encouragement are needed. At the Gift of Life, we know that one person can make a big difference. We are a team of parents, families, and friends of preemie infants sharing our successes and give hope, compassion, and support to those whose lives have been touched by prematurity. Join us.

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