A medical expert, Dr Gbemisola Boyede, Consultant Paediatrician and Founder of “Ask The Paediatricians Foundation”, an NGO, stressed the need for early and quality antenatal care to reduce complications affecting preterm babies.
Boyede disclosed this in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja on Sunday, in commemoration of the World Prematurity Day, annually celebrated on Nov. 17 to raise awareness on preterm birth and concerns of preterm babies and their families worldwide.
The theme for the 2019 World Prematurity Day celebration is “Born Too Soon: Providing the right care, at the right time, in the right place.’’
Preterm babies, also known as premature, are babies born before the start of the 37th week of pregnancy.
A 2018 World Health Organisation (WHO) report states that premature birth is a leading cause of death in children under the age of five worldwide and may lead to health issues with long term health problems that may affect the brain, lungs, hearing or vision.
According to the medical expert, the day is set aside to increase awareness on preterm births, as well as deaths and disabilities due to prematurity and the simple proven cost-effective measures that can prevent it.
She said “it is important to prevent prematurity because of the difficulties babies go through to survive. The most important strategy is essential and high-quality antenatal care.
“Experienced mothers, don’t do ‘too-know’ and wait until last trimester before registering for antenatal care because each pregnancy is different. Early registration will help doctors to pick out high-risk pregnancy that needs more specialist care.”
She explained that mother’s age, multiple gestations, excessive maternal activity/stress, infections and substance abuse are some of the risk factors that may lead to preterm birth.
She added that acute or chronic maternal illness, abnormalities involving the womb, detachment of the placenta, low economic status, black race, previous preterm birth, abnormal trauma/surgery are other risk factors that could contribute to preterm deliveries.
The paediatrician noted that most preterm babies’ organs were not fully matured and had a sub-optimal function, hence they often encounter difficulties in adapting to life outside the womb.
“ These problems are also related to the degree of prematurity, the more preterm the more the likelihood of problems. Some of these problems are early and some could be long term,’’ she said.
She noted that some of the early difficulties of preterm babies may include birth asphyxia with hypoxia (inadequate oxygen) especially to the brain, jaundice, poor control of body temperature, low blood sugar, infections, bleeding in the brain.
According to her, poor growth, learning disability, behavioural disorders, hydrocephalus (big head), epilepsy, cerebral palsy, hearing and visual impairment, intellectual disability and increased risk of child abuse and neglect were possible long term complications.
Boyede stressed the need for antenatal care in high-risk pregnancies and their deliveries in hospitals to access specialists and appropriate care for mothers and babies, which would enable them to manage challenges that might arise.
She added that “preterm babies, especially the very small ones born less than 32 weeks, must be managed in hospitals neonatal intensive care and placed in incubators.
“They will be managed by paediatricians until they are fit to be left alone with the mother.”
She, therefore, advised mothers with preterm babies to ensure regular follow-up visits at the hospital, maintain excellent care and hygiene in the home environment, regulate temperature by wearing appropriate clothing, feed according to paediatrician’s directives.
Boyede encouraged pregnant women to ensure they receive Tetanus Toxoids (TT) immunisation, anti-malaria, iron and vitamin supplements, use an insecticide-treated bed net and avoid smoking and alcohol.
She called on the government to invest more in newborn intensive care resources, which would promote access to better care.