Tuesday, 17 November 2015

World Prematurity Day

Rita H. Pickler, Editor, JAN

On November 17, 2015 as part of Prematurity Awareness Month, we will observe the fifth World Prematurity Day. I hesitate to say we will “celebrate” the day. It is difficult for me to say, after over 30 years of caring for, teaching about, and studying preterm infants, that we should celebrate prematurity. Prematurity, which occurs in 15 million births and causes 1 million deaths yearly in addition to leaving many surviving infants with years of complicating health problems including cerebral palsy, vision and hearing loss, and intellectual disabilities, is the single most important unsolved health problem in the world. We should not celebrate it. We should, however, think about and consider ways to prevent it; that is of paramount importance.

For indeed, World Prematurity Day is important for raising awareness of the global scourge of early birth. In my own country, the United States, prematurity rates continue above 10%, with higher rates for ethnic and racial minorities. Our embarrassingly high rate of prematurity prompts frequent calls for more research and targeted interventions aimed at preventing preterm birth. At the moment, full prevention is not in sight. Thus, we must also continue to raise awareness to the fact that many infants who survive prematurity have significant long term sequelae that may not be known until the survivor is well into adulthood. Some of these long-term complications are the result of our usually well-intentioned, but nonetheless misdirected, care during the early weeks following birth. We are slowly learning that everything we do – how we handle, hold, and treat – matters with these very small and fragile infants.

And while not a new awareness, we are more focused than ever before on the effect of a preterm birth on the entire family. While we have generally embraced family-centered care in our neonatal intensive care units, the truth is that we do not have the time or knowledge we need to fully address parent and family needs. Thus, many parents may feel unwanted or unneeded during their infant’s hospitalization (i.e. Lee, Wang, Lin, & Kao, 2013). Parents may feel unprepared to take home their infant and once home (i.e. Chen, Zhang & Bai, 2015), they may feel unsupported in their efforts to care their child (Dellenmark-Blom & Wigert, 2013).

World Prematurity Day has evolved into a day to raise awareness for the challenges of preterm birth. Along with countless thousand others, I invite you to join in observing the day and to consider ways that we can prevent prematurity while at the same time providing care to preterm infants and their families in ways that promote the best possible outcomes.


Chen Y., Zhang J. & Bai J. (2015) Effect of an educational intervention on parental readiness for premature infant discharge from the neonatal intensive care units. Journal of Advanced Nursing doi: 10.1111/jan.12817

Dellenmark-Blom M. & Wigert H. (2013) Parents' experiences with neonatal home care following initial care in the neonatal intensive care unit: a phenomenological hermeneutical interview study. Journal of Advanced Nursing 70(3), 575–586.doi: 10.1111/jan.12218

Lee T.-Y., Wang M.-M., Lin K.-C. & Kao C.-H. (2013) The effectiveness of early intervention on paternal stress for fathers of premature infants admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit. Journal of Advanced Nursing 69(5), 1085–1095. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2012.06097.x

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