More than 95 percent of the over 1,900 premature babies admitted to Women’s Wellness and Research Center’s (WWRC) Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) last year were safely discharged home. Dr. Hilal Al Rifai, Medical Director of WWRC and Director of the Neonatal Service says premature babies must meet a number of criteria before they are ready to go home.
Dr. Al Rifai attributes the survival of most premature babies to the advanced level of care and high-quality equipment available at WWRC’s world-class NICU. He says the care provided by the NICU’s multidisciplinary team is helping these tiny babies to become, and remain, medically stable.
“The clinical team is the backbone of the entire unit. Our neonatologist and other specialized clinicians, such as physiotherapists, social workers, and psychologists, closely monitor each baby and our nurses support both the newborn and their parents around the clock on both a clinical and emotional level. It is their dedication to each baby that makes their discharge from our unit such a tremendous triumph,” said Dr. Al Rifai.
With over one hundred cots, the WWRC’s NICU is the largest facility of its kind in the region and has more than 500 highly skilled staff. Each month around 1,417 babies are born at Women’s Wellness and Research Center and about 11 percent of those babies are very to extremely preterm and will be cared for by the NICU.
Babies born before 37 weeks are considered preterm, which is commonly known as premature. Worldwide, as many as one in ten babies will be born preterm. Dr. Al Rifai explains there are sub-categories of preterm birth, based on gestational age: extremely preterm (less than 27 weeks); very preterm (27 to 32 weeks); and moderate to late preterm (32 to 37 weeks).
Dr. Al Rifai says that there are a number of factors that may put a pregnant woman at higher risk of a preterm birth, including having an existing health problem, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, stress, complications such as an infection, or having a multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets). He notes that conceiving through in vitro fertilization, smoking, and problems with the uterus, cervix, or placenta are also among the risk factors for a premature birth.
“Other risk factors for premature birth include infection, particularly of the amniotic fluid, being underweight or overweight before pregnancy, an interval of fewer than six months between pregnancies, multiple miscarriages, and physical injury or trauma,” said Dr. Al Rifai.
Dr. Al Rifai explains that babies born too early may have more health issues than babies born on time, and may face long-term health problems that affect the brain, the lungs, hearing or vision. Having a baby born too soon is a significant trauma for families and Dr. Al Rifai says NICU staff help parents understand both the increased risk of disability associated with a preterm baby and also to manage any physical or mental disabilities that have been identified.
“Preterm infants are particularly vulnerable to complications due to impaired respiration, difficulty in feeding, poor body temperature regulation, and high risk of infection,” Dr. Al Rifai states.
“We ensure our preterm babies receive the best possible care in order for them to thrive and prevent any disability. For those with complications, they are referred to the appropriate specialty for continuity of care,” he states.
World Prematurity Day is marked globally by the World Health Organization (WHO) every 17 November is an opportunity to recognize preterm labor, premature birth, and the issues facing preterm babies and their families. The day is designed to call attention to the heavy burden of death and disability and the pain and suffering that preterm birth causes.