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'It gets very emotional' | UofL Health speaks on Prematurity Awareness Day

Hundreds of premature babies are born at UOFL Hospital each year. Today we're bringing awareness to prematurity and the medical issues they typically face

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Prematurity Awareness Day, held on Nov. 17, is aimed to shed light on preterm birth and its complications, which are the largest contributors to infant death in both the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Each year in the United States, about 1 in 10 babies are born premature, and more than 200 babies are born prematurely at UofL Hospital - Center for Women & Infants.

When a family has a premature baby in the NICU, UofL offers many services to parents to help. They can check in on their baby without even having to be at the hospital with a program called NIC-View. Parents sign a consent form for a camera to be put in the unit that their baby is in so they can see what's going on 24/7.

Amanda Gardner is the NICU clinical nurse manager at UofL Hospital. Day in and day out she works with premature babies and their families. She says while it can be hard to watch these families go through this kind of struggle, the reward when they finally get to go home is why she does what she does.

"We develop bonds with these families," she said. "They're here with us for months at a time. So for us to be able to see that baby grow and develop and become the baby it needs to be in order to go home, it's very rewarding and very emotional."

According to Gardner, premature birth is when a baby is born more than three weeks before its due date. Prematurity can cause long-term health problems and can have lasting financial effects on families.

The earlier a baby is born, the more respiratory and other medical concerns appear, the main issues being brain development, lung development, and growth.

Preemie babies may have a harder time in school than babies born on time. They're more likely to have learning and behavioral problems in childhood, which could lead to low test scores, having to repeat grades or even needing special education. This is because a baby's brain is still developing and growing in the last few weeks of pregnancy. For example, a baby's brain at 35 weeks weighs only two-thirds of what it should weigh at 39 to 40 weeks.

Gardner says the most common causes of premature births are infections or a mother's blood pressure issues. In other circumstances, sometimes women's bodies just aren't made to hold a baby for a full term. 

Since COVID-19, the number of premature births seen in hospitals has decreased. Experts aren't exactly sure why, but speculate that maybe with parents staying home more, their stress levels could be lower than if they were actively in the workplace.

Experts say the best way to avoid a premature birth is for expecting mothers to take care of themselves both mentally and physically.

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