Friday, May 15, 2009

Micro Preemies

Pick up a copy of People Magazine this week (May 18 issue) if you have a chance. There is a wonderful article on micro-preemies that is heartwarming. A full-term baby is born at 37-40+ weeks of gestation. A preemie is a baby who is born before 37 weeks gestation. Generally, a micro-preemie is defined as a baby born before 26 weeks gestation, however, babies born weighing under 3 lbs. or under 29 weeks are often referred to as micro-preemies as well.

According to the March of Dimes, prematurity (with it's complications including low birth weight) is the second leading cause of infant death (and the leading cause among African-Americans) in the United States. Preemies and micro-preemies may experience many complications, including immature lungs, underdeveloped digestive systems, reflux during feedings, neurological delays, anemia, high risk of infection, potential for brain hemorrhage, visual damage, and long-term health issues. While all that sounds ominous, current medical interventions are saving younger and younger preemies and they are doing better than in years past.

A micro-preemie born before 23 weeks gestation has a 0-10% chance of survival. Preemies born after 26 weeks have a 90% chance of survival. That is impressive given the odds just 20 years ago. The long term picture is getting better and better. That medical intervention can save babies who weigh less than 2 lbs. at birth is nothing short of miraculous.

Having worked in Labor and Delivery and Newborn Nurseries at several hospitals, I have seen infants born extremely early. Many not only survived, but did well. When my own son was born at 36 1/2 weeks gestation and with pneumonia, he was sent to Sharp Mary Birch Hospital in San Diego. While some would classify under 37 weeks as "preemie", my son weighed a whopping 9 lbs. 2 oz. He wasn't much of a preemie, but the pneumonia was nothing to sneeze at, so he spent a week in a very advanced neo-natal unit. This unit had 99 neo-natal warmers, fully equipped with the latest in resuscitative technology. The nursing was typically one nurse to two babies, except for the critical babies who had one or two nurses of their own. Pediatricians, Radiologists, Pathologists, Neonatal Neurologists and Lab Techs were ever-present.

Because my son was so big, nurses would stop by and say "What is HE doing here?". I wandered around and saw triplets just over a pound apiece, twins, and single babies, many weighing under 4 lbs. There was a "wall of fame" where the nurses posted their babies' progress and had follow up pictures from when they went home.

I can understand the reticence of adoptive families when they get a call to ask if they would consider adopting a preemie. While it may seem like a scary proposition, many don't have residual problems and grow up to lead healthy and productive lives. It's worth consideration. The word "preemie" doesn't necessarily equate to delays or medical problems. Even some micro-preemies grow up without residual, as shown in the article I mentioned in People Magazine this week. We've encountered relatively few micro-preemies during the adoption process, but many preemies and most have survived and are doing well. We have known one micro-preemie who expired because she was simply too premature and wasn't strong enough to make it (Hope is the name adoptive parents Kris and Misty gave her...and she inspired us all). But these little ones are fighters and they tend to surprise everyone with their ability to keep going and they get stronger and stronger.

The March of Dimes reports that every 8 seconds a baby is born in the U.S. Of those, 1,280 babies are born prematurely every day. 841 are born with low birth weight of under 5 lbs. Each day, 76 babies die before their 1st birthday. When you consider the number of premature births, it's amazing to consider how many of those premature infants live.

More than 1 in 27 babies are born to mothers who either started prenatal care late (3rd trimester) or had no prenatal care at all. While prenatal care is recommended and important, most of these babies are born healthy. Prematurity does tend to occur at a slightly higher rate with those who have not received prenatal care. talks about Gage, a cute little guy who was a micro-preemie, in case you want to get a mother's perspective. While prematurity is a concern, it's not always a deal-breaker and some of these preemies have a lot to offer and it is obvious that God has a plan for them and that they are here for a reason.


Brian and Bridget said...

As a potential adoptive parent, I think you're eyes have to be wide open going into any potential situation. Speaking for myself, if we were able to have biological children, and I delivered early, dealing with prematurity would not be an option. So why should it be an option in an adoption situation? It shouldn't be.

There are many risks that we take in the course of our lives and it is from those risks that we learn so much.

alaboroflove said...

Bridget: I agree with your assessment. I was hoping, with this article, to let adoptive parents know that even when faced with prematurity and some daunting odds, good things can and do happen. Of course, if someone isn't comfortable with a situation, we wouldn't want them to go forward, but sometimes people do rule out situations as a whole rather than individually. Each situation should be considered independently.

Holly said...

I agree too, I feel like with adoption, it is the same as if having a baby and you can't know what is going to happen. You can't control everything and sometimes you just have to go with it. Everyone deserves a chance.

AvaBaby's said...

Please go to to help these families of preemies. We are San Diego's premier preemie non profit organization. We know micro preemies, and I am the grandmother of a 26 weeker.

Pamela said...

We are looking at being shown to a birth mom of a micro-preemie. We are so confused on what to do and what to expect.