Understanding World Prematurity Day: A Clinical Psychologist's Perspective

World Prematurity Day is a global awareness day held on the 17th of November each year. With the aim of raising awareness about premature birth, its impact on families, and the significance of providing support and care for premature infants and their families. 

As a Clinical Psychologist and a Mum who has had a premature baby, I believe it's incredibly important to be talking about prematurity, especially in considering both the emotional and psychological aspects associated with premature birth, which very often gets missed. 

Raising awareness about prematurity is not just a noble cause; it's a necessity. Premature birth is a global public health concern that affects millions of families worldwide.

In this blog post, we will explore what World Prematurity Awareness Day is, the importance of raising awareness, the psychological impact on parents and strategies for coping and providing support. 

What Is Premature Birth?

Premature birth refers to childbirth occurring before 37 weeks of gestation and is a widespread global health concern. Babies born prematurely face a range of health challenges due to their underdeveloped organs and systems, varying in severity and often requiring specialised medical care. Most babies born prematurely will need to spend time in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for the first part of their lives to help them gain strength and enough medical stability to be cared for at home. 

Why Are Babies Born Prematurely?

It's important to note that in many cases, the exact cause of premature birth remains unclear, and it can be a result of a combination of factors this is a huge reason why we need more awareness, more research into the reason for premature births and how to support parents during pregnancy. 

Reasons for Premature Birth May Include:

  • Being Pregnant With Multiples: Having twins or triplets can increase the risk of premature birth. Around 60% of twin pregnancies result in birth before 37 weeks (spontaneous or induced), and around 75% of triplet pregnancies before 35 weeks.  (Read more about prematurity with twins here: Twins Trust | Prematurity)
  • Maternal Health Conditions: For example, conditions such as high blood pressure, HGV (Hyperemesis Gravidarum), diabetes, infections, certain medications, autoimmune disorders, and high levels of stress or anxiety
  • Cervical and Placental Issues: A mother's cervix may shorten or open too early in pregnancy. Or, there may be issues with things like placental abruption (when it detaches from the uterine wall prematurely) or placenta previa (when it covers the cervix), which can lead to premature birth.
  • Previous Premature Birth: Women who have had a previous premature birth are at a higher risk of experiencing it in subsequent pregnancies.
  • Spontaneous Birth: For some women, their waters break early (PPROM), or they may go into labour before 37 weeks and even as early as 22 weeks of gestation. The reason for this is often unknown, and this can cause a huge amount of anxiety, uncertainty and often self-blame. The truth of the matter is we don’t have enough information or research on why this happens.
  • Assisted Reproductive Technology: In vitro fertilisation (IVF) and certain fertility treatments can slightly increase the risk of preterm birth. Women who use in vitro fertilisation are 4.24 times more likely to have a premature birth than those who used no treatment.
  • Socioeconomic Factors: Social determinants of health, such as limited access to healthcare and poverty, can contribute to premature birth. There are also racial disparities, with Mothers from Black ethnic minority backgrounds having an increased risk of premature birth. (Read more here
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Why Do We Need To Raise Awareness?

World Prematurity Day serves as an important event to highlight the impact of premature birth on individuals and society. It raises awareness about the challenges faced by the infants themselves and their families. It helps us to promote preventative measures and highlights the need for improved medical care and support systems.

So, why do we need to raise awareness…

Health Outcomes and Challenges

Premature birth can lead to a range of health challenges for infants, including respiratory distress issues, infections, developmental delays, mental health issues and long-term physical, cognitive and neurodevelopmental disabilities. By raising awareness, we can encourage early detection and intervention, ultimately improving health outcomes for children born prematurely. 

Emotional and Psychological Impact

Premature birth can be emotionally and psychologically overwhelming for parents. The stress, anxiety, and guilt often experienced can have lasting effects, 80% of parents have stated that they think their mental health has suffered. Raising awareness helps validate these emotions and offers support for parents. 

Preventative Measures

Some preterm births could be prevented through proper prenatal care, education, and healthy lifestyle choices. Raising awareness empowers expecting parents and healthcare professionals to take preventive actions and make informed decisions.

Healthcare Professional Awareness

We need more healthcare professionals to be aware of the risk of prematurity and its impact. From antenatal education and support to postnatal care, we need everyone who meets parents along their journey to be informed so that they can offer the best care possible.

Community Support

An aware community is a supportive community. When people understand the challenges faced by families with premature infants, they are more likely to offer their support and assistance. This sense of community can significantly alleviate the burden on parents.

Medical Research and Innovation

Awareness campaigns can drive interest and funding toward research on prematurity. This research leads to medical innovations, improved treatments, and better neonatal care practices that benefit all newborns, not just preterm babies.

Legislation and Policy Change

Awareness can lead to changes in legislation and healthcare policies. By advocating for improved maternity and neonatal care standards, we can create a safer environment for mothers and newborns.

Reduction in Stigma

Raising awareness reduces the stigma associated with preterm birth. It encourages open conversations and understanding, making it easier for parents to share their experiences and seek help.

Global Perspective

Premature birth is not limited to one region; it's a global issue. Raising awareness at a global level can drive international collaboration and support for improved maternal and neonatal care worldwide.

Educating the Next Generation

By raising awareness about prematurity, we can educate the younger generation about the importance of prenatal care and healthy pregnancy. This knowledge can influence future parenting choices, reducing the incidence of preterm births.

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The Psychological Impact of Prematurity on Parents 

It doesn't end when you get home… often there is a misconception that once you are out of neonatal care, you are OK; it is over. And this is far from the truth.
Most parents disclose that the emotional impact of neonatal care and prematurity does not hit them until months after being home. It is a lot more common for parents (Mums and Dads) who have been through neonatal care to experience postnatal mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and PTSD.  

Strategies for Coping 

We need to raise awareness so that we can support parents in coping with the emotional impact of prematurity and so that professionals also know that this is a vulnerable group of parents who need more help. We need to be helping people become aware of strategies to cope with the difficult feelings that arise. We need to… 

Acknowledge Feelings

Encourage parents to acknowledge and validate their emotions, as each one's experience is unique. It's okay to feel feelings of anxiety, guilt, grief or to feel overwhelmed after your baby has been born prematurely and if you do not process the experience, it can stay with you. 

Seek Support

We recommend that parents seek support from healthcare professionals, support groups, and therapy services specialising in premature birth. These resources can offer guidance and understanding. I have a list of all of the places that provide support for babies born prematurely and sick - read more here.

Promote Self-Care

Emphasise the importance of looking after yourself. Encourage parents to take breaks, rest, eat well, and engage in activities that bring them comfort and relaxation. During and after neonatal care, the idea of rest can feel threatening and difficult, we need to learn how to do this again to regulate our nervous systems. 

Communication

Encourage open and honest communication between parents. Let them know that it's normal to have different emotional responses, and understanding each other's feelings is crucial for their relationship.

Engage in Bonding Activities

Suggest activities that can help parents bond with their premature baby, even within the NICU. Reading, singing, and a gentle touch can promote a sense of connection. We need to let people know that it is normal for that feeling of love to build gently. It doesn't have to be a big rush of love like we see in the movies. 

How Can You Get Involved?

So, what can you do to get involved and help us to spread awareness on World Prematurity Day. 

Educate Yourself

Start by learning about prematurity, its causes, and the challenges it poses to infants and their families. Understanding the issue is the first step in raising awareness.

Share Information

Use your social media platforms, blogs, or websites to share information about Prematurity Awareness Day. Post facts, personal stories, and resources to help educate your audience.

Participate in Online Campaigns

Many organisations run online campaigns to raise awareness on Prematurity Awareness Day. You can participate by using relevant hashtags, sharing posts, and contributing your own stories and experiences.

Attend Local Events

Look for local events or activities organised by healthcare facilities, support groups, or nonprofits that focus on prematurity awareness. Attend these events to show your support and connect with others trying to raise awareness.

Volunteer

Many organisations need volunteers to support their initiatives on Prematurity Awareness Day. You can volunteer your time, skills, and expertise to help with organising events, fundraising, or running awareness campaigns.

Donate

If you're able, consider making a donation to organisations that work towards improving neonatal care and supporting families of premature babies.

Advocate

Advocate for policies and initiatives that support prematurity awareness and prevention. Write to your local representatives, sign petitions, or participate in advocacy efforts by relevant organisations.

Share Personal Stories

If you have a personal connection to prematurity, share your story. Personal experiences can be powerful tools for raising awareness and providing hope and encouragement to others going through similar challenges.

Advocate for Education

Encourage schools, workplaces, healthcare workers, antenatal educators, and perinatal workers to promote prematurity awareness and education. You can suggest holding workshops, seminars, or awareness programs.

Support Parents and Families

Reach out to parents of premature babies to offer your support, encouragement, and understanding. Join or create support groups to connect with others who have experienced similar challenges.

Remember that raising awareness is an ongoing effort, and every small contribution can make a significant difference. Your involvement can provide support, resources, and hope to families facing the challenges of prematurity while advocating for better care and prevention.

Raising awareness about prematurity is not just about acknowledging a problem but actively working toward solutions. It is about supporting families, improving healthcare, and creating a compassionate society. By spreading the word about the challenges of premature birth, we can collectively make a difference in the lives of countless people, ensuring a more hopeful, supportive future for premature infants and their families.

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