More than 95% 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 that premature babies must meet a number of criteria before they are ready to go home.
World Prematurity Day, marked globally by the World Health Organisation (WHO) every November 17 is an opportunity to recognise preterm labour, premature birth, and the issues facing preterm babies and their families.
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 specialised 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 100 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% of those babies are very to extremely preterm and are cared for by the NICU.
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. He noted that conceiving through in vitro-fertilisation, 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.