Raising prematurity awareness

2018-12-04 06:01
PHOTO:PHINDILE SHOZI  General Practitioner Dr Siphesihle Dlamini said there are many risk factors that can lead to preterm birth.

PHOTO:PHINDILE SHOZI General Practitioner Dr Siphesihle Dlamini said there are many risk factors that can lead to preterm birth.

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SATURDAY, November 17 saw Annual World Prematurity Day commemorated.

Premature birth is said to be the leading cause of death worldwide in children under the age of five.

Renowned baby and childbirth educator Lynne Buff said babies born too early are more susceptible to long-term health problems that affect the brain, the lungs, hearing, and vision.

“Every year, 15 million babies are born premature worldwide; more than one million of these babies die and many more face serious, lifelong health challenges. Preterm birth is truly a problem that can happen to every one of us, irrespective of the country we live in, our culture, or socioeconomic status,” said Buff.

General Practitioner Dr Siphesihle Dlamini said that there are many risk factors that can lead to preterm birth: “You can’t really pinpoint what is the cause of preterm birth, but there are risk factors that are considered, which can be maternal, foetal and pregnancy factors.”

Maternal factors include antenatal care, previous history of preterm delivery, cervical abnormalities, smoking, alcohol, abdominal trauma, and heavy physical work, said the doctor.

“When a woman realises that she’s pregnant, she must make sure that she visits a clinic, gynae or doctor to have the necessary checks so that they may be able to dictate things that might put their pregnancy in danger, which may lead to preterm birth,” Dlamini said.

Foetal factors such as developmental abnormalities, twin pregnancy, and a baby that’s too big might lead to the mother delivering the baby before its due time: “Lastly it’s the pregnancy factors which consist of intrauterine infection; whereby there is an infection within the womb and fibroids, where the doctor might not know that you have them and they will tell that you are due in few weeks because they see that your stomach is big but in fact it’s the fibroids not the baby,” Dlamini explained.

Buff said that, worldwide, one in ten babies is born too early and giving birth to a preterm baby can have significant impact on families.

“Having a baby born too soon is a significant trauma for families, and also represents a severe financial burden for many families due to medical expenses and our often-struggling public healthcare system,” Buff said, adding that in South Africa, neonatal facilities at hospitals are overcrowded.

“The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Groote Schuur Hospital reports a frequent occupancy rate of 120% as opposed to the desired 80% occupation rate. This type of overcrowding may lead to an increased risk of infection and further complications for these babies,” she said.

Buff advised that raising awareness of preterm birth is the first step to defeating it as preterm birth rates could be significantly reduced through the spread of information and improved treatment and care: “Moms should be aware of information related to medical conditions which could result in preterm labour and educate themselves on the signs of early labour. It is critical to consult with a midwife or obstetrician as pre-term labour can be halted in many instances,” said the doctor.

Finally, Buff advises expectant moms that they should also look after themselves during pregnancy by having regular antenatal care at the recommended stages of pregnancy and by managing weight gain — around 12 kg is the average over the course of pregnancy. Buff also advised that infected gums produce prostaglandins, the same hormones that initiate labour, saying that soon-to-be-mothers should “visit a dentist at least once during pregnancy and brush teeth at least twice a day and floss.”

She ended by saying:“It is important to realise that in the majority of premature births, there is nothing a mom could have done to prevent it from occurring.”

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