Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Alison's Story and the Implications of Preterm Birth

May 02, 2012

When a woman learns she is pregnant the first thing she does after the initial elation is desperately hope nothing goes wrong and that she and her baby will be healthy throughout her pregnancy and delivery. Sadly based on a new report, Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth, over one million babies around the world die from being born preterm each year and is the second leading cause of death for children under five behind pneumonia.

Two years ago Alison from Wilmington, Delaware was like any other expecting mother who is excited about being pregnant. After losing her first child to a miscarriage and experiencing continuous fertility issues Alison was thrilled to be expecting again. Through thirteen weeks of pregnancy everything went according to schedule, but after returning from a trip abroad to visit her sister something didn’t feel right.

 
She eventually delivered her son at 26 weeks and four days, a little over a week shy of 28 weeks where crucial lung development occurs.

When Alison returned to the States she attended her regular prenatal appointment, but her doctor noted that her blood pressure was too high. Alison was told to keep a watchful eye on her blood pressure, which she did diligently. Nevertheless, the day before Thanksgiving 2010 Alison was admitted to the hospital because her blood pressure remained elevated. She had severe preeclampsia, a medical condition where a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure in the last two trimesters.

Alison recalls that the doctors tried several medications to lower her blood pressure and then put her on bed rest. She eventually delivered her son via C-section on December 14, 2010 at 26 weeks and four days, a little over a week shy of 28 weeks where crucial lung development occurs.

Today Alison’s son is doing well, but has problems gaining weight and is perpetually at the bottom of the growth chart. If he fails to gain weight soon the doctors may recommend he undergo a gastrostomy tube procedure to ensure he receives adequate nutrition and water he needs. Alison mentioned that her son will have lifelong health issues, but he is doing fantastically otherwise.

Alison’s son is lucky; he is alive and doing well today. However, that is not the case for 1.1 million other babies around the world who die from being born prematurely. In all, 15 million babies are born too soon globally. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia see the world’s most preterm birth, but preterm birth isn’t solely a developing world problem. In fact, the United States is one of ten countries along with Brazil with the highest rates of preterm births.

The newly released report, Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth, calls for greater research, innovations and investments to reduce the 15 million preterm births every year as well as greater quality care and access to family planning for women worldwide, especially for adolescents.

We can all do our part to help spread awareness of preterm birth and support mothers and their families who experience the immediate and lifelong challenges of caring for a baby born prematurely. Additionally we need to hold stakeholders accountable to ensure measurable progress is being made to reduce premature births worldwide. The global preterm birth problem is weighty, to be sure, but any progress is good progress.

 
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