Caring for the newborn and the parents

Prematurity… One word… Countless stories and feelings behind it. Joy, sadness, anxiety in general, anxiety for tomorrow, anticipation, guilt, mourning… Children who came out victorious, children flying in the skies, all fighters. The bravest fighters. All of them have something to teach us and, above all, the will to live.

Let’s take the things from the beginning. Premature is any baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Large (or late) preterm is 34-36 weeks, very preterm is 28-32 weeks, and extremely preterm is <28 weeks’ gestation. Usually, premature babies also have a low birth weight, i.e. they weigh less than 2.5 kg. In the year 2023, a baby can be born at the beginning of the 6th month of pregnancy (or 22 weeks of pregnancy) with an extremely low birth weight – 500 grams or less – and survive.

How common is prematurity?

About 1 in 10 children are born prematurely worldwide. In our country, more than 8,000 babies a year are born prematurely, 1 every hour that passes.

But what is the cause of prematurity?

We know that twins, triplets, etc., are brought earlier by the “stork”, in addition, an infection in the mother or other conditions, such as high blood pressure or sugar, are causes of prematurity. Many times, however, we don’t know what caused the premature birth.

How do we care for premature babies?

The smaller a premature newborn, the greater the needs and possibly the fluctuations in his journey. A neonatologist is a pediatrician with a heart big enough to hold all the tiny beating hearts in a Neonatal Unit. The neonatologist, together with the specialized nursing staff, take care of the newborns, so that they breathe calmly, until they manage to breathe on their own, without any help. They wake up on their head when the belly swells. They take care of their diet so that they grow properly. They keep an eye on their most precious organ, the brain.

Where are parents in the prematurity journey?

I will tell you for sure where they should NOT be, far away from them!

The parents often stand at the edge of the incubator, meteoric, premature too, they didn’t expect it so early, they had imagined it completely differently. Pink or blue balloons next to the bed in the maternity hospital, return home in 2-3 days all together. Instead, new terms and images “forcefully” invade their daily lives. NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), incubator, intubation, ventilator, feeding tube (a tube inserted through the nose or mouth and ending in the newborn’s stomach, because the sucking-swallowing reflex has not yet matured sufficiently, so to breastfeed or bottle feed), lots of machines, lots of beeps, lots of tubes and wires.

What should we do for parents as health professionals?

Let’s embrace them mentally and physically! This is what we do at MITERA, in collaboration with the Institute for the Promotion of Mental Health in Pregnancy and in the First Years of Life, “COITIDA”.

With the founder and Scientific Manager of Coitidas, the psychoanalyst Mr. Meropi Michaleli, we created a psychological support and empowerment group for parents of preterm hospitalized newborns, with the aim of helping parents emotionally manage prematurity, alleviating their stress and anxieties.

The response from parents is great. So is the need.

Kangaroo care: Cuddles are healing

But let’s get back to the hug. Hugging is healing. The parent’s hug, the parent’s skin-to-skin contact with the newborn is powerful therapy. This is also his slogan this year EFCNI (European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infant), an organization, a network of health professionals and parents representing the interests of premature babies and their families).

Skin-to-skin contact or kangaroo care, which provides warmth to the baby (literally!), the best thermoregulation is not done by an incubator, but by the parent’s embrace. Other important benefits are better infant sleep, better weight gain, higher breastfeeding rates and “bonding” between infant and family.

As dad Stavros told us at one point, “I felt like a father when I hugged Philip for the first time”. That’s kangaroo care in one sentence.
Instead of an epilogue, I would like to close with the words of a mother of premature twins, Raif and Harrison, to us health professionals who are the quintessence of Neonatology: “Help us help them become the ‘best’ children, that can be done, enabling us to be the best parents we can be from day one.”

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