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PedX: The Starting Line

By Krisada Ooi


On your marks! Get set! Go!


Life is a marathon. All marathons begin with a starting line. For us humans, our starting line is childbirth. Just like the beginning of a race, childbirth is exciting, invigorating, and for most parents, the happiest moment of their lives. However, also much like a race, not every newborn gets a fair start in life. Therefore, in conjunction with World Prematurity Day, we are going to be delving into preterm birth and the steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of prematurity. Are you on your marks? Get set! Let’s go!


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines preterm birth as any birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed. Statistics show that in 2020 alone, 1 in every 10 infants were born prematurely in the United States [1]. Every year, around 15 million babies are born preterm. This is a concern because preterm birth complications are known to be the leading cause of death among children under the age of 5. This begs an urgent question - what can be done about this?


Although the cause of preterm birth remains unidentified, common factors that are believed to cause it are multiple pregnancies, infections, and chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Albeit we have yet to pinpoint an exact cause, premature babies can still be saved! Provision of antenatal steroid injections, "kangaroo mother care" (a type of care involving exclusive breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact), and antibiotics to treat newborn infections have the potential to save more than 75% of premature babies. Furthermore, studies have shown that the continuity of effective midwifery services has the potential to reduce the risk of prematurity by 24% [2]. The World Health Organization has also set guidelines pertaining to antenatal care (care before birth; during or related to pregnancy), which include crucial interventions such as a minimum of 8 contacts with health professionals throughout pregnancy to identify and manage other risk factors such as infections.


Recent medical advances have also allowed for more than 9 out of 10 premature babies to survive and go on to develop normally and live healthy lives. Evidently, much like a race, one can still run in spite of a few bumps along the way. Let me give you a real life example. In the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, Dutch runner Hassan fell down during the last lap of the women’s 1500-meter heat. Nevertheless, she persevered and ultimately won the gold medal!


Much like Hassan, premature babies too have the potential to grow and develop into the champions they were born to be.


References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Preterm Birth”. Maternal and Infant Health, 1 November 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pretermbirth.htm

  2. World Health Organisation. “Preterm birth”. Newsroom, 19 February 2018. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/preterm-birth

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