With preterm birth causing more than one million deaths each year, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is today joining the rest of the world to observe World Prematurity Day.
The aim of the day is to raise awareness of deaths and disabilities due to prematurity and the simple, proven, cost-effective measures that could prevent them.
World Prematurity Day is observed on 17 November each year to raise awareness of preterm birth and address concerns about preterm babies from families worldwide.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says preterm birth is the world’s largest killer of newborn babies causing more than one million deaths each year. 75% of these could however be saved without expensive, high technology care.
Babies born between 32 and less than 37 weeks of pregnancy make up 85% of the 15 million preterm babies born annually, totaling 12.6 million, according to the WHO.
Dr Ahmed Farouk Eldakrouri, HMC’s Women’s Hospital Consultant Pediatric Neonatologist, explained:
Prematurity occurs when babies are born before the normal term of 37 – 42 gestational weeks. So those babies born before 37 weeks are premature. There are grades of prematurity including: mild prematurity (35 -37 weeks gestation); moderate prematurity (28 -34 weeks); and extreme prematurity (before 28 weeks).’
He said in many cases, the reasons why babies arrive early cannot be found but in some other cases, the cause could be due to one of the following reasons:
- When a mother is pregnant with more than one baby such as twins, triplets or quadruplets. This is increasing the prematurity rate in Qatar.
- When some abnormalities exist in the mother’s uterus, especially in the cervix (the neck of the womb).
- If the mother has diabetes, hypertension and other chronic diseases.
- If the mother is aged below 18 years or above 35 years of age.
- If the mother has a history of prematurity.
- If there is an infection related to the urinary tract and/or affecting the amniotic membrane.
- Excessive amniotic fluid.
- Abnormalities related to the placenta’s position in the womb.
- Some congenital malformations of the baby while in the womb.
- Some cases of a mismatch between the baby and mother’s blood groups.
Dr Eldakrouri said:
The earlier a baby is born, the more severe his or her health problems are likely to be. Many premature babies require special care and spend weeks or months hospitalized in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Some of those who survive may face lifelong problems such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, breathing and respiratory problems, visual problems including retinopathy of prematurity, hearing loss, and feeding and digestive problems.’
He added that the expertise and service available to premature babies at Women’s Hospital’s NICU is of an international standard:
To ensure adequate care for the babies, we are working as a multi-disciplinary team comprising of physicians, nurses, physiotherapists, respiratory therapists and other pediatric sub-specialties such as cardiology, nephrology, endocrinology and surgery as well as social work. We are adopting patient and family-centered care to ensure all affected by the baby’s early birth are included in their care.’
Dr Huda Saleh, Obstetrician/Gynecologist at Women’s Hospital said:
Premature labor is a very serious complication of pregnancy as it strikes quickly and silently in many pregnant women. Unfortunately, many women do not recognize the signs of premature labor.’
She noted that the early detection of premature labor can help prevent premature birth and possibly enable the affected woman to carry her pregnancy to term, giving her baby a better chance of survival. She added:
It’s important to seek care if a woman thinks she might be in preterm labor because her doctor may be able to help both her and the baby.’
According to Dr Saleh, warning signs of preterm labor could include:
- Contractions (the abdomen tightens like a fist) every 10 minutes or more.
- Changes in vaginal discharge (leaking fluid or bleeding).
- Pelvic pressure – the feeling that the baby is pushing down.
- Menstrual-like cramps in the lower abdomen that can come and go or remain constant.
- Low, dull backache.
- Cramps that feel like a menstrual period.
- Abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea.
Dr Saleh explained that there are precautions a woman can take to improve her health as well as lower the risk of having a premature baby. These include:
- Stopping smoking and avoiding alcohol or drugs.
- Seeing a health care provider for a medical checkup before getting pregnant.
- Going for prenatal care as soon as pregnancy is suspected and throughout pregnancy.
- Talking to a health care provider about:
- How to best control diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
- A healthy diet and prenatal vitamins. It is important to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily before and during early pregnancy.
- Concerns about pregnancy and any warning signs or symptoms of preterm labor that will need medical attention.
- Breastfeeding as breast milk is the best food for babies, whether they are born early or at term.
Excellent maternity care services are available on referral at HMC’s Women’s Hospital, Al Khor Hospital, Al Wakra Hospital and Cuban Hospital. All the hospitals also provide emergency maternity and gynecological services. Any woman who suspects they might have a gynecological problem should seek immediate medical attention or dial 999 for the ambulance.