Sue Haddad, MSN, RNC, Bayhealth Nurse Manager of Labor and Delivery, has seen way too many premature births in her career.
“It can be heartbreaking,” she said. “Babies born too early can have a variety of health problems, and some of them just aren’t strong enough to make it.”
Ashley Lambert, Bayhealth Outpatient Registrar, is all too familiar with the complications that can arise from premature birth. Her son Cole, born at 23 weeks gestation, has overcome a series of challenges ranging from undeveloped lungs to brain hemorrhage.
“It is the hardest thing you could ever imagine, watching an innocent baby fight to stay alive, knowing it’s your baby,” said Lambert. Cole was given lung surfactant in utero to promote lung development and then spent 72 days on a ventilator after birth.
“When you have a premature baby, the mood is somber instead of joyful,” Lambert added.
After 122 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Cole went home with his family. He weighed 11 pounds at discharge, a significant difference from his birth weight of 1 pound, 5 ounces.
About to celebrate his second birthday in May, Cole seems just like a normal toddler who enjoys climbing, running, and telling his parents, “no.” But until this past December, he wore an oxygen mask to sleep at night.
A nurse cares for Cole at home during the day while Lambert and her husband work. During the winter, peak season for flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), Cole barely left the house.
“Kids who are born prematurely have weak lung function for years,” Lambert explained. “If Cole caught a virus that affects the lungs, it could be devastating for him.”
Lambert and Haddad are both participating in the March of Dimes’ “March for Babies” this month. The annual event raises funds to support community programs that help women have full-term, healthy pregnancies.
Experts aren’t really sure what causes premature birth to occur at such high rates. While known risk factors such as obesity or smoking do play a role, they account for only about 30% of premature births.
“If we knew exactly what caused premature birth, we could fix it,” said Bayhealth physician Garrett Colmorgen, M.D., Maternal and Fetal Medicine specialist and Prematurity Chair for the Delaware Chapter of March of Dimes. “The research now suggests that socio-economic and racial disparities are a factor. We are exploring ways to mitigate those issues.”
Colmorgen is a member of the Delaware Health Mother and Infant Consortium (DHMIC), an organization dedicated to understanding the causes of infant mortality in Delaware and taking steps to improve outcomes for mothers and babies.
Dr. Colmorgen believes that educating expectant mothers is an important way to prevent premature births. The “Kicks Count” initiative, introduced a few years ago, helps expectant mothers understand the importance of monitoring their babies’ movements. Mothers are instructed to alert their healthcare providers and go to the nearest emergency facility when they notice a decrease in the baby’s normal movement patterns.
The Healthy Women, Healthy Babies program also works to educate women at risk for premature birth and other poor outcomes.
DHMIC estimates that preventing premature birth could save Medicaid and private insurance companies more than $44,500 per infant, $71 million annually.
“The day a child is born should be one of the happiest in a parent’s life. By joining with the March of Dimes, we are funding research, educating our communities, and supporting families who are affected by premature birth,” said Haddad.
Lambert agreed. “When you have a premature baby, there are so many questions without answers, so many fears. My family and I were directly impacted by March of Dimes research on lung and brain development. I will always be grateful.”