It is World Prematurity Day on November 17th.
8% of all babies born in Canada are delivered prematurely, a percentage that has been steadily increasing since 1991. Babies born prematurely have immediate health and supportive care needs and may experience long-term impacts such as the risk of development or physical challenges. As the rate of prematurity continues to rise so too does the need to improve the standard of care for Canadian infants and their families.
A recent study reveals the gaps in care of premature babies and their families, put out by the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation (CPBF).
While the report identifies high quality clinical care and an increasing emphasis on research as areas of strength for Canada, it also uncovered seven areas that should be addressed immediately. These are:
- Greater consistency of care across the country.
- The need for family-centered care in hospital (such as on-site accommodations for family and greater parent/healthcare provider education).
- Support for families’ emotional needs.
- Support for the financial burden of an extended hospital stay.
- Support for the period immediately following a preemie’s discharge home.
- Support when a baby is transferred to another healthcare facility.
- Increasing access to long-term follow-up care for all premature babies.
“Every day, I witness firsthand the developmental and health impacts of prematurity. They are far greater than the average person may realize,” said Dr. Jennifer Toye, Neonatologist, Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton. “Today’s report challenges healthcare providers and Canadian families to aim for a higher standard of care and to be part of the solution.”
President of the CPBF, Katharina is a mother of twins born prematurely and has personally experienced the impact of premature birth from a parent’s perspective and I had the opportunity to ask her some questions about this report and how Canadian families can help and learn more.
Why are more babies being born prematurely in Canada?
“There has been an increase of the rate of babies born before 37 weeks gestation in Canada from 6.6% in 1991 to 7.9% in 2010/2011. (Canadian Institute for Health INformation, “DAD/HMDB Childbrith Indicators by Place of Residence and DAD/HMDB Newborns Born in Hospital,” in CIHI quick Stats (Ottawa, ON2011-12)
There is not much evidence on why this is the case. In our opinion, more research needs to be done on why the rate of prematurely born babies is on the increase. Are mothers more stressed? Does the environment have an influence on pregnancies and their outcomes?”
What can expectant mothers do to avoid premature birth?
“Below are the possible causes of preterm birth. Mothers can take these causes into consideration when pregnant to avoid premature birth:
The society of Obstetrics and Gynecology of Canada states the following as being the most common causes of preterm birth:
- Not having regular prenatal care.
- The mother having high blood pressure.
- A great deal of stress in the mother’s life.
- Physical abuse from a partner or someone else.
- Expecting multiples.
- Having had a previous baby that was born too early.
- A body weight of less than 45.5 kg (100 pounds).
- Living with a chronic illness.
- Working long hours (more than 8 hours a day or shift work), or work that is physically strenuous
*NOTE: Sometimes preterm birth happens spontaneously and there is no cause.”
What can we do as Canadian families to ensure some of these seven objective are acted on?
“We would like to start supporting families more and provide them with Peer Support across the country after they come home from the hospital. We need families who have experienced having a preterm baby and would like to do our training, who could help us with that. Also we want to start providing peer support via telephone, we need funds and manpower for that as well.
The general public can also help families by being extra cautious with their hygiene when visiting a family with a baby born early. These fragile infants struggle even with the common cold due to their immature lungs and can get very sick.”