By Talking Nutrition Editors
According to the European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants (EFCNI), each year, more than one in ten babies is born premature, before the start of the 37th week of pregnancy1. These births happen all over the world2. For instance, more than 25,000 of them happen in Canada annually3. While complications resulting from preterm births were the leading cause of death in children under five , three-quarters of these deaths could have been prevented with cost-effective interventions4. The Talking Nutrition editors spoke with one Canadian mother who experienced preterm labor and now has a healthy, happy 8 -year-old daughter.
Rhonda, a Canadian mother from Nova Scotia, was 34.5 weeks pregnant when she unexpectedly started labor. While her preterm birth was not a complete surprise, she was hoping to avoid it. Rhonda had an inefficient cervix - but it was discovered too late for her to be eligible for a cervical cerclage. So, she was placed on bed rest and took a leave of absence from work.
Determined and hopeful, she set two goals for herself – the first to try to make it to 32 weeks of pregnancy by resting and taking her prenatal multivitamins and DHA omega-3 supplements. The second goal was to try and make it to 34 weeks, with the same approach. She succeeded and at 34 weeks of pregnancy she returned to work. However, her water broke while she was out for lunch and she rushed straight to the hospital.
Rhonda’s labor was both relatively uncomplicated and, still, unnerving. During her bed rest phase, she had been given a steroid injection to help her baby’s lungs develop. Though her water broke naturally, her labor was ultimately induced at the hospital.
Rhonda shared, “It was such a whirlwind, I didn’t even have time to pack a bag. I remember when we checked into the hospital, the doctors were deciding whether or not to induce me or keep me on antibiotics and bed rest for another week. But the risk of infection outweighed the risk of a preterm birth, so we decided to go through labor. My daughter was born a feisty, healthy baby girl weighing 4 pounds and 14 oz. It was a scary moment when she arrived because we had an influx of Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) medical staff who arrived to perform multiple tests on her. At the end of those tests, it was decided that she was strong enough to stay on the regular maternity ward with me. That’s when I breathed such a huge sigh of relief.”
Rhonda’s daughter was considered a moderate-to-late preterm birth because she was born between 32 and 37 weeks.
“Our hospital stay was longer, she had to have constant blood tests to monitor her blood sugar and we had to keep her bundled and supplement my breast milk with formula milk so that her little body could focus on trying to regulate her sugars and her body temperature,” said Rhonda.
The above are usual interventions for preterm babies. Rhonda’s story is lucky in that she did not have to utilize any more severe or invasive procedures for her child and was able to stay with her on the maternity ward.
Despite this, her daughter still suffered long term effects. Rhonda said, “I wish I had of known some of the long-term effects of preterm babies. My daughter is a feisty, thriving eight-year-old now, but she has had speech issues that we overcame with speech therapy, vision issues that require a strong prescription and she also has asthma. Even with all of this, she grows stronger each year. We are getting ready to have her unicorn-themed birthday party at the new swimming pool complex in our town – she couldn’t be more excited!”
For more information on preterm birth and to learn about the EFCNI’s Socks For Life Campaign, which raises awareness for preterm birth. #WorldPrematurityDay.