The World Prematurity Day conference at the United Nations Headquarters this week featured a lineup of prominent speakers, including Jennifer L. Howse, president of March of Dimes, and Her Royal Highness Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan. But it was 10-year-old Kristina Lincoln who really shone at the event. She and her mother shared their story of Kristina's premature birth, and expressed their gratitude for the efforts of March of Dimes in helping the now vibrant and healthy girl.
Kristina's outcome shows that through the concerted efforts of hardworking people, babies born prematurely can not only survive, but also thrive. As the leading cause of newborn death, prematurity is an issue that mothers and families across the globe must get behind to make a difference.
Why Does World Prematurity Day Matter?
World Prematurity Day, which takes place on Nov. 17, is a united global effort to diminish the alarming rates of premature births around the world. Prematurity can impact women regardless of race, ethnicity, geographic location or income, but unfortunately, economic disparities often mean the difference between life and death for newborns. Babies born in poor countries are 10 times more likely to die from premature birth than those born in affluent countries.
Premature birth often means tragedy for developing countries with mothers lacking access to quality medical care and support, but the crisis is far-reaching, even in the wealthiest countries. The United States has the highest rate of premature birth in any industrialized country in the world, with 497,600 live preterm births last year. The number in Pakistan? 757,900.
Childbirth is a stressful experience, but turns frightening for mothers and families when their babies arrive too soon. Infants who arrive prematurely face lifelong health problems such as anemia, infections, breathing problems and brain hemorrhaging. The health of a child in her first days of life can impact her for years to come.
What Is Being Done to End Prematurity?
Medical experts recommend simple steps mothers can take to help prevent death from premature birth, such as practicing "kangaroo care," or holding baby close to mom's bare chest. Of course, these kinds of methods aren't enough, especially for families in desperate need of advanced medical care for their babies. These mothers require care during labor, birth and the first few days of baby's life to ensure wellness. Access to medication such as antibiotics and antenatal steroids are also key in saving young lives.
These are a few tenets of the Every Newborn Action Plan, whose goal is to end preventable deaths through evidence-based strategies. Fortunately, this initiative is just one of many created by philanthropic and medical organizations that are getting involved in the effort.
Many celebrities have also used their influence to spread awareness. Anne Geddes has filmed a heartwarming "virtual hug" video message for World Prematurity Day with a survivor she photographed early in her career. Geddes is joining the likes of Celine Dion, Thalia, Pink, Dr. Mehmet Oz and others in sharing their concern for premature babies everywhere.
What Can You Do?
You don't have to be a medical expert or philanthropist to make a difference. Start by raising awareness through social media. Use the hashtags #WorldPrematurityDay, #BornTooSoon and #EveryNewborn on Twitter to join the worldwide conversation about prematurity. You can also spread the love by sending a virtual hug of your own through Facebook and other social media sites.
Anyone who has given birth prematurely understands how scary this time is. If you've given birth to a baby prematurely and haven't told your story, consider sharing your experience with other families struggling with prematurity. Your support can comfort a family with a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Turn your awareness into action by donating to worthy charities such as March of Dimes, Unicef and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, helping struggling families and getting informed about the risk factors for premature birth for your own pregnancy. A significant amount of research has yet to uncover all the root causes of prematurity, but your time, money and concern can speed up the process so that every newborn has a chance at life.
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