World Prematurity Day is celebrated On Nov.17 every year to bring attention to the problems experienced by mothers and newborns in connection with preterm birth.
A baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy is considered preterm. Every year, 15 million babies are born preterm worldwide, which accounts for one in 10 deliveries.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), preterm delivery and low birth weight account for about 14.8% of infant deaths. Premature babies are at high risk of developing feeding difficulties, breathing issues, problems with vision, hearing and development.
Babies born premature need to spend time in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) at the hospital, depending on their level of development and support required. Preemies can be discharged when they reach a minimum weight of at least four pounds and show steady weight gain. The baby is safe to be taken home when they can breathe independently, can be breastfed- or bottle-fed and can keep warm on its own without the incubator.
After the discharge from NICU, premature babies still need special attention and care at home as their bodies are sensitive and prone to infections that can lead to complications.
Here are six steps to prevent infections in premature babies at home:
1. Take vaccinations: The premature baby and the persons taking care of the child need to be up to date on vaccinations. This will prevent the newborns from contracting the infection from the caregiver.
2. Wash hands: Maintaining good hand hygiene by washing them with soap after changing diapers and before and after touching the baby can prevent infections. Using a tissue while coughing or sneezing, and avoiding the use of shared personal items such as towels can prevent the spread of germs.
3. Breastfeed the baby: If the baby can be breastfed, it is an ideal choice of feeding as studies show breastmilk provides better immunity and improves bonding with the mother.
4. Avoid visiting public places: Most doctors recommend limiting public place visits with premature babies, at least in the first few weeks to reduce the risk of contracting infections.
5. Limit visitors at home: It is important to limit visitors at home, especially people who have coughs, colds or stomach bugs. Parents should encourage visitors to maintain hand hygiene before touching the child.
6. No smoking at home: Smoking should be strictly avoided at homes with premature babies, as secondhand smoke is particularly harmful to their lungs and immune systems that are not mature.