The wish of every mom-to-be to give birth to a full-term and healthy baby. Yet some babies are arrive much earlier than expected. This article focuses on overall facts and useful information of premature births in Singapore and help to prepare parents of preemies and parents-to-be when it comes to caring for your delicate miracle baby or twins.
Almost 1 of every 10 infants born in Singapore are premature, or preemies. The national rate of preterm births has gone up, from 7.2 per cent to 9.5 per cent, despite low birth rates in the last decade.
For example, premature babies make up about 13.5 per cent of the babies born at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. The good news is about 90 per cent of premature babies treated at KKH’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) survive and the majority go on to live relatively normal lives. Other national hospitals are also show good survival rates.
However, not every preemie baby can survive, and those who do, often have lifelong health problems. Therefore, it is important to book early antenatal consultation with your obstetrician to better understand about personal medical conditions, necessary care and signs of preterm labor during pregnancy.
What is the premature birth?
A premature birth is usually classified as before 37 weeks. Babies at 23 weeks can survive, but the earlier the birth the higher the risk of long term physical and mental challenges. In Singapore, the guidelines to start medical treatment are for infants above 24 weeks and weight 500g, although parents can ask for medical treatment in any case.
Causes of prematurity:
No one knows for sure what triggers premature labor. However, several factors, including older maternal age due to delayed childbearing and the use of fertility treatments, teenage pregnancies, have been known to increase the likelihood.
Some of certain existing conditions, such as some kidney and autoimmune diseases as well as high levels of chronic psychological and physical stress during pregnancy , are also linked to a higher risk of preterm labor. Other possible causes are previous premature births, multiple pregnancy, cervical insufficiency so be extra mindful of your own medical history.
According to the World Health Organization, preterm birth is the leading cause of newborn deaths and the second-leading cause of deaths in children under the age of five.
The good news is… doctors can use sophisticated medications to delay preterm labor such as progesterone and tocolytic drugs to stop womb contractions. Also, the hospitals provide latest technology to detect any minor changes during the pregnancy!
What are current neonatal practices in Singapore to address the consequences of preterm births?
1. Use of antenatal steroids on expectant women in preterm labour has brought about significant improvement in the severity of acute lung disease in babies born preterm.
2. The use of surfactant, a natural substance present in matured lung. It helps to decrease the need for ventilatory support in preemie babies.
3. Attention to nutrition delivered to preterm infants from birth has improved the quality of survival.
4. Improvement in intensive neonatal care, both technology and nursing care ratios for preemie babies contribute immensely to survival and quality of survivals of babies born preterm.
Most premature baby units in Singapore hospitals conduct specific training depending on the needs of your baby. You will be advised on all aspects of care for your little one, including bathing, feeding, changing diapers, looking for general signs of danger etc.
The hospital medical team will send your baby home with a follow up plan of necessary medical care that will coordinate care with your pediatrician (usually with sub-specialty in cardiac care) and other medical specialists as needed.
Are there any support for parents of premature babies?
Yes! You are not alone. You can approach the parent support groups that was formed to provide support and education for parents of premature babies. It consists of doctors,nurses, dietitians and other medical professionals so you will get adequate information about necessary care of your tiny precious one.
What’s more, coffee afternoon meetups are conducted once a month where parents gather together to provide support to each other. A guest parent whose baby has previously graduated from NICU is also invited for this session to share their experiences.
Just remember that it is common to feel helpless, sad, guilty, anxious or angry. Don’t be afraid to see for help and meet people. Things will get better, just need time for it and a lot of confidence and positive thinking. The nursing staff, family members and mothers that have the similar situation or those who had the same experience before will help you to feel more confident, less anxious and better able to connect and bond with your baby.
Parent Support Groups:
1. NUH Neonatal Parental Support Group(National University Hospital)
2. The Early Bird Baby Club at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital
3. Light Weight Club Support Group at Singapore General Hospital
Any practical tips before bringing a premature baby home?
Your premature baby’s homecoming is more likely to go smoothly if you’re prepared. Here are some ideas about getting ready from parents of premature babies.
- Prepare the house in advance: the one constant for your baby is you, and you want to be together as much as possible. You don’t want to be trying to put furniture together while looking after your baby.
- Store breast milk and freeze it: It helps to keep your to-do list very short in the early weeks and months.
- Try to accept help: if friends and family offer to help with cooking, looking after older children, gardening or shopping, say ‘Yes, please!’ You might have difficulty leaving your home for a few weeks, so it can make life easier if you have some help.
- Warn family and friends that premature babies can be easily overwhelmed: newborn babies tend to be handed around for cuddles. But premature babies might need to be protected from too much handling and too many new people to start with. This help to prevent infections. If family and friends are ill, it’s best if you ask them to stay away.
- Get all the information you need: ask the hospital staff any last-minute questions and make sure you know how to use any medical equipment you’re taking with you. Make sure you’ve got all the contact details for the follow-up appointments. It’s also helpful to get a number for a contact person at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in case you need to ask anything.
- Familiarize with safe sleeping positions for baby: positions and bedding for home might be different from those that your baby needed in the NICU.
- Find out about playgroups and centres: you might like to go to a playgroup for parents of premature babies in your area, as well as the usual parents groups. Your child and family health nurse can tell you about local options.
- Make friends with other parents and nurses. You’ve got to know at the hospital and want to keep in touch with. Many parents find that they stay friends with parents they meet while their babies are in the NICU. Find out about the preemie clubs, morning sessions in the hospitals.
Raise awareness and make a difference to other parent’s life!
The roller coaster of prematurity effects many preemie parents for years after they leave the NICU.
Share our joy and your preemies’s accomplishments with thousands of other parents in our new series “My Miracle Baby”. It is a place to celebrate our children, as well as share in the ups and downs of preemie life. Write your story to us at firstname.lastname@example.org