November is Prematurity Awareness Month. The March of Dimes who once stamped out Polio is now trying to stamp out Prematurity.
Prematurity currently affects 1 in 8 babies born. We all know someone who had a baby prematurely or who was born prematurely. Many of us also know someone who lost a baby born too soon. It's terrible. It's just such a hard situation to be in. I cannot even imagine and am very glad and thankful every day that I did not have to go through that and that I have never watched Chuckles seriously struggle with anything. I am so so so thankful for him. Even when he doesn't sleep through the night, I still know how lucky I am. I often hold him, sniffing the top of his baby head, by the light of the nightlight, in the middle of the night, breathing deeply so he'll relax and go back to sleep. I know how lucky I am.
There are a lot of reasons prematurity is not dropping despite our advanced medical care and pre-natal care. One of the big reasons is the increase in multiple births. Multiples are on the rise for three reasons (that I can think of off of the top of my head):
1. Increased use of fertility treatments. There are lots of ways with fertility treatments to keep multiple births down (and I am not even talking about reduction (aka aborting some in a multiple pregnancy scenario)), but as long as couples are paying tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket for the procedures, they might actaully want twins thinking they will hit the "lottery" then. So, one big way to reduce people's actual desires for multiples would be to remove the financial penalties and have insurance cover some level of fertility treatment (like they do in NY, NJ, MA, IL, and CA).
2. The older mother. Older women, who are closer to menopause, often spontaneously release multiple eggs in a single month. When you get closer to menopause, it's almost like your body is saying, this is my last chance, so let's throw the whole dozen at it and see what sticks. Older women (even without fertility treatments) spontaneously have more twins. I can't even think of a good way to decrease this. I suppose we could urge women not to delay childbearing (if they are already in a committed releationship and ready), but it seems a little touchy.
3. The rise in obesity and our un-natural diets. Obese women tend to have more twins due to fat cells releasing estrogen-like compounds. Several foods (like milk) have recently been implicated in helping cause twinning. Crazy, I know.
So, if we can reduce the incidence of multiple births, we can probably reduce the incidence of prematurity. Once that's done, we can look at all the other causes of prematurity and fix those, but let's start with the low-hanging fruit first.
And, if you know someone who had a premature baby, tell them something really nice about how they are strong and their child is lucky to have such great parents supporting him/her. One other thing that I didn't always know...people whose babies were born prematurely are every bit as proud of their new baby pictures as everyone else. Their reality is just different. All those wires and tubes and monitors keep their babies safe and alive. So, when they show you the picture, smile, look passed the wires, and tell them they have a beautiful baby just like you would for everyone else.