Posts Tagged ‘prematurity’

Is donor milk right for your preemie?

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

feeding in the NICUFor premature babies, breast milk can be lifesaving. It is more easily digested and provides protection against many diseases. Providing breast milk, however, can be a challenge for some moms. Many moms are not able to provide their baby with their own breast milk for various reasons, they:

  • are recovering from surgery or have certain medical conditions that make it difficult to initiate and maintain a milk supply;
  • find it difficult to pump enough milk to meet their baby’s needs;
  • have chronic conditions and need to take medications that may make their breast milk unsafe.

In these cases, donor milk may be the best option for your preemie, and a better alternative to formula.

What is donor milk and where does it come from?

A milk bank is a service that collects, screens, processes and distributes safe human milk to babies in need. All donated milk goes through a pasteurization process to eliminate bacteria while keeping the milk’s essential nutrients. The milk is then packaged, stored and ready to ship to hospitals or individual recipients at home. Lactating women who wish to donate their breast milk may do so through a milk bank.

Does your preemie need donor milk?

The nutritional needs of each baby depends on many different factors. It’s important to talk to your baby’s doctor to see if donor milk is right for your baby. Some hospitals have their own donor milk bank or have a partnership with a milk bank near them. If your baby’s doctor indicates that your baby will benefit from donor milk, he can write a prescription. For more information about the milk bank closest to you, visit the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

Can you buy breast milk from another mom who has milk to spare?

There are risks with getting breast milk from a stranger or a friend; this milk is not tested or screened for infectious diseases or contamination. A study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that out of 101 samples of milk purchased online from different mothers, 74% of samples were contaminated with bacteria and 21% of samples contained cytomegalovirus (CMV) bacteria.

It’s important to be informed when making feeding decisions for your preemie. If you have any questions about donor milk or your baby’s nutritional needs, speak with your baby’s healthcare provider.

Knowing your family health history may help your baby

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Family at Thanksgiving dinnerRecently I had an appointment with a new healthcare provider and had to complete a health history form at my first visit. It was 3 pages long and took me about 20 minutes to do while in the waiting room. As I was sitting there, I realized that I didn’t know the answers to some of the questions, especially about my relatives.

Was this really that important?

In one word? Yes.

A family health history (FHH) form is a record of health conditions and treatments that you, your sisters, brothers, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and great grandparents have had. It can help you figure out the medical problems that run in your family. Knowing your FHH may just save your life. It may also have a direct effect on your baby’s health.

How can a FHH form help your baby?

The FHH form will help your provider see if any of the conditions or diseases that run in your family will affect your baby. For example, premature birth can run in families. And, certain conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure put you at a higher risk to have a premature baby.

If you and your partner complete a FHH form and share it with your prenatal provider, you may learn about the health of your baby before she is born. The earlier in your pregnancy that your provider is aware of health conditions, the sooner your provider can decide on treatments for you.

It would be even better if you could complete and share this information with your provider before pregnancy, at a preconception checkup. This way, your provider can help you become as healthy as possible before pregnancy.

Use our FHH form

Here is a form that you can print out and complete.  Print one copy for yourself and one for your partner/spouse. We suggest you take it with you to family gatherings (Thanksgiving anyone?) and ask your relatives to help you fill in the blanks. You may very well find out information about diseases and conditions that run in your family and put you at risk. Early detection is often key in successfully managing a disease.

Here are tips on how to gather information from relatives.

Knowing your risk for certain conditions and that your provider is on top of treatment options, should put your mind at rest. And, knowing you are doing your best to take care of your baby’s health should make you feel even better.

So, when you sit down to apple pie, start a conversation, and fill in your FHH form. The information you share with your family may make a positive difference in everyone’s lives.

Have questions? Text or email us at

Crazy luck – one mom’s story

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015
CharlieNICU (2)Today, in recognition of World Prematurity Day, we are honored to share this post written by a mom of a preemie about what Prematurity Awareness Month means to her.

Lots of people don’t know what it means to have a premature baby. I didn’t know either, before I had my baby. Charlie was born  at 25 weeks, weighing 1 pound 15 ounces.

If you had told me that I, a healthy person with not a single complication in my first 25 weeks of pregnancy, would have a baby before I even reached my third trimester – I’m not sure I would have believed it. And yet, it happens, WAY more than it should. Yes, it sometimes happens to moms who don’t have access to good prenatal care. But it also happens to moms who do take care of themselves, who get prenatal care… moms like me.

In this day and age, where doctors can predict, know, and treat so much, the miracles of fertility, pregnancy and prematurity are still mysteries in a lot of ways. In our case, we still don’t know for sure why Charlie came early – and why there were no advance signs that gave the doctors any chance to prepare him for an untimely arrival.

My “incompetent cervix” (worst medical term ever, by the way) was part of the problem, but the fact that my body was contracting and ready to birth a baby at just 25 weeks was another, totally unexplained, part of the problem. And between the time I walked to the hospital that morning and he was born that afternoon, there just wasn’t enough time for them to do anything to keep him inside a few more precious days. Those days really are precious, too. That early in gestation, every week increases the chances of survival a lot, and likely reduces the number of complications the baby is going to face. Unfortunately for us, by the time they knew I was in labor, there was no stopping it or even slowing it down.

Our story has a happy ending – at least at this point! Our boy is happy, a total handful, and most importantly, healthy – for the most part, although the hacking cough he has right now might indicate otherwise. Today I picked him up from school, and he and his best buddy (another Charlie) wanted to run wild on the playground a bit before heading home – all that time sitting in a classroom is hard on a first grade wild man!  So they ran – and then they both planted themselves on a bench and coughed and coughed, like little old men. The common thread? Both are preemies. Coincidence that they’re the ones hacking when the other kids are running non-stop?  I think not. I think these former preemie lungs seem to be more impacted by this unusually warm, moist fall we’re having – and by pollen-heavy springs, and pollution, etc. Though our boy grows and grows, his premature past still rears its ugly face here and there.

I recognize that we are CRAZY lucky to have such a vibrant, busy, healthy boy. I think most moms probably reflect all the time on their kids’ successes and strengths and feel pride and joy. But for me, there’s the added reminder of what could have been. I can guarantee you, I take none of these skills and accomplishments for granted. I think ALL THE TIME about the tears I shed over that tiny, struggling baby in the isolette, and how the life I’m living now was the stuff of daydreams back then. And I will never forget where we started, and just how far he’s come.Charlie2015

So that’s it, that’s why this month is important to me. Prematurity awareness is important because it helps people realize that it really matters to support the March of Dimes, which works constantly to reduce the numbers of premature babies born every day. And it’s important because it reminds me to be oh so grateful for how far we’ve come, and how many doctors and nurses and therapists and scientists and family and friends have helped us get here.

Marie lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and Charlie. Charlie was born at 25 weeks and weighed 1 pound 15 ounces at birth. He spent 85 days in the NICU at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC.


On an average DAY in the United States…

Monday, November 16th, 2015

10,926     babies are born
1,045       babies are born preterm (before 37 weeks gestation)
874          babies are born low birthweight (under 5 1/2 pounds)
329          babies are born with a birth defect
174          babies are born very preterm (before 32 weeks gestation)
153          babies are born very low birthweight (under 3 1/3 pounds)
64            babies die before their first birthday

Yes – these numbers are talking about only ONE day!

Numbers don’t lie. And these numbers are way too high. In the U.S., 380,000 babies are born too soon every year. Worldwide, 15 million babies are born prematurely each year.

Some babies will pull through without issues or problems, due to medical advances. But there are so many who won’t. Losing a baby due to premature birth is nothing short of a tragedy. And, the enormous stress and strain of having a child with a disability as a result of prematurity, is lifelong.

This is why the March of Dimes is working so hard to solve this complex problem.

We’re getting resultsNICU doctor and baby resized

After decades of increases, the rate of premature birth in the United States has now been on a steady decline for the last several years.

This decline – to 9.6% today (down from 12.8% in 2006) – means 231,000 fewer babies  have been born premature. That’s significant! It also has saved our nation billions of dollars in excess health care costs. But we still have more work to do. Our goal is to lower the preterm birth rate to 5.5% in 2030. When we reach this goal, it will mean that 1.3 million fewer babies will have been born preterm.

You can help

November 17th marks World Prematurity Day, and the March of Dimes and our partner organizations worldwide are asking everyone to help spread the word on the serious problem of premature birth.

Join the 24-hour #worldprematurityday Buzzday.

Join one of our Twitter chats.

Don’t be silent. Every voice counts. Together we can increase awareness and help end premature birth.

Our babies deserve it.

Pregnancy after a preemie

Friday, November 13th, 2015

You may know that having had a premature baby increases your risk to give birth early in your next pregnancy. No one knows for sure what causes a woman to have a premature baby. However, it is important to understand what factors may make you more likely to give birth early and understand how you may be able to reduce your risk.

When you are ready to think about having another baby after you have had a preemie, here are some things to consider:

When to get pregnant again

Getting pregnant too soon after having a baby increases your chance of giving birth early. If possible, wait at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again. This gives your body time to recover.

Manage preexisting health conditions

Having diabetes or high blood pressure puts you at a higher risk to have a premature baby. Talk to your health care provider about how to best manage these conditions before you get pregnant again. And weighing too much or too little can also be a risk factor. Try to get to a healthy weight before you get pregnant again.

Prevent infections

Having an infection during pregnancy may increase your chance of giving birth early. Always wash your hands thoroughly and practice good hygiene. This won’t prevent all infections, but it can help. Also, get tested for STDs before you become pregnant.

Treatments for preterm labor

Some women may be able to receive progesterone treatment or cerclage in their next pregnancy to reduce their chances of giving birth early again. Talk to your provider to see if these treatments may be right for you.

In the video below, Dr. Siobhan Dolan discusses who may be a good candidate for progesterone treatment:

If you are planning on getting pregnant again, make sure you talk to your health care provider about what you may be able to do to reduce your risk of premature birth. Together, the two of you can make a plan so that hopefully your next pregnancy can be closer to 40 weeks. You can also go to our online community Share Your Story to talk to other women who gave birth early and are planning a pregnancy or are pregnant again.

Have questions? Text or email us at

Skin to skin contact helps your baby AND you

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

Skin to SkinResearch has shown that skin to skin holding, also known as “kangaroo care,” is one way to help stabilize your baby’s body temperature and help his heart rate become regular. It is comforting to your baby, and may help him gain weight. Even very sick or fragile babies can usually benefit from kangaroo care.

It’s good for parents, too. It helps you bond with your baby, which boosts your spirits. For moms, it encourages your breast milk supply, too.

What is skin to skin holding or kangaroo care?

It is when you hold your baby, skin to skin, bare chest to bare chest, in an upright position. Your baby is wearing only a diaper.

Does it have other benefits?

Yes. For your baby…

Skin to skin holding may help lower the risk of infection, improve survival rates, and encourage your baby to spend more time in deep sleep (which is important for growth and good health). It may also lessen your baby’s pain and help with brain development. Kangaroo care may help your baby spend more time being quiet when awake, and less time crying.

For you and dad…

Skin to skin increases the feeling of intimacy between the baby and parent, helping the mom or dad feel connected. Often dads are fearful of holding their baby – skin to skin may promote a sense of empowerment and confidence. It may decrease anxiety, fear and depression and encourages attachment. Parents say it is the most comforting activity they experience in the NICU.

One mom told us she wrote in her journal “Today I feel like a mother for the first time” – that was the first time she held her twin boys skin to skin, 5 weeks after they were born!

Should you ask to hold your baby?

Yes! If you have not yet held your baby skin to skin, ask if you can. Often, the NICU staff is just so busy with other important duties that they don’t think to offer it. Typically, your baby must be medically stable before he is ready for kangaroo care. But, you can do it even if your baby is hooked up to machines.

How much kangaroo care should you do?

The more you can do, the better. It has been shown that skin to skin contact should take place for a minimum of one hour, but several hours at a time are better. It takes a while for a baby to transition from the isolette to chest and back, so you must take that into account. In some countries, parents are encouraged to do kangaroo care round the clock – that’s how good it is for babies!

Still wondering if skin to skin holding is for you?

Watch this video.

Did you experience kangaroo care in the NICU? Please tell us about it.


Have questions? Email or text We are here to help.

RDS and BPD – breathing problems in preemies

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

NICU sign 1If your baby was born prematurely, you are probably concerned about his lungs. A baby’s lungs are not considered to be fully functional until around 35 weeks of pregnancy. If your baby was born before that, it is possible that he may struggle with breathing.



A serious breathing problem called respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is the most common illness in the NICU. But, the good news is that due to medical advances, babies with RDS have a 99% survival rate.

Babies with RDS struggle to breathe because their immature lungs do not produce enough surfactant, a protein that keeps small air sacs in the lungs from collapsing. March of Dimes grantees helped develop surfactant therapy, which was introduced in 1990. Since then, deaths from RDS have been reduced by half.

Babies with RDS also may receive a treatment called C-PAP (continuous positive airway pressure). The air may be delivered through small tubes in the baby’s nose, or through a tube that has been inserted into his windpipe. As with surfactant treatment, C-PAP helps keep small air sacs from collapsing. C-PAP helps your baby breathe, but does not breathe for him. The sickest babies may temporarily need the help of a mechanical ventilator to breathe for them while their lungs recover. Learn more about the differences between C-PAP and a ventilator, as well as causes, symptoms and treatment of RDS.


BPD (bronchopulmonary dysplasia) is a chronic lung disease common in preemies who have been treated for RDS. These babies may develop fluid in the lungs, scarring and lung damage. Medications can help make breathing easier for them. Usually babies with BPD improve by age 2 but others may develop a chronic lung condition similar to asthma. Learn about asthma, including questions to ask your child’s health care provider and how to help your child understand his breathing problems.

Even though the outlook for babies born prematurely has improved greatly, many babies still face serious complications and lasting disabilities. Many March of Dimes grantees seek new ways to improve the care of these tiny babies, while others strive to prevent premature delivery.

Have questions?  Email or text We are here to help.


Prematurity, learning disabilities, and ADHD

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

birth announcementPremature birth is a leading cause of lasting childhood disabilities. October is Learning Disabilities and ADHD Awareness Month – a good time to become familiar with the effect prematurity can have on learning and behavior.

Of course, many babies who are born prematurely do very well. We hear stories of preemies who had a rough start in life, spent days, weeks or even months in the NICU and years later have no serious issues to report. But, some preemies will have long-term challenges with learning or behavior.


Learning disabilities (LDs) are persistent difficulties in reading, writing and/or math skills. They are not the same as learning differences. In order to help your child with learning struggles, it is important to first understand what LDs are and are not.

Kids with LD see the world in a slightly different way. Check out this post which describes a great resource from to give you insight into your child’s world.

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors or be overly active.

What are the numbers?

  • Globally, 5 million babies are born too soon every year.
  • Babies born prematurely are more likely than babies born full term to have learning and behavior problems throughout childhood. About 1 in 3 children born prematurely need special school services at some point during their school years. Learning problems may not appear until elementary or even middle school.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Education, 1 in 5 children in the U.S. has learning and attention issues. “Approximately 2.5 million students in the U.S. are identified as having a specific learning disability—such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia—and as many as 6 million students are identified as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”
  • The CDC reports that in 2012 more than 5 million children aged 3–17 had ADHD (10%). Boys (14%) were almost three times as likely as girls (5%) to have ADHD.

Resources to explore

If your child struggles with learning or behavior, where should you go for reliable information?

  •  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers articles for parents to better understand ADHD.
  • Parent Training and Resource Centers, available in every state, offer information and support to families. Find your center.
  • The Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) has hundreds of easy-to-read articles on disabilities, special education and the law – including how to obtain school services for your child.
  • The Understood website provides a wealth of information and support to individuals and parents of children with learning and attention issues.
  • The State of Learning Disabilities, 3rd Edition, 2014, is a downloadable review of LD. It is available on the National Center for Learning Disabilities website where along with the statistics on LD, it describes public attitudes towards people with LD, characteristics of kids with LD, employment issues, and lots of other information.

Students with LD and/or ADHD may face challenges, but they also have strengths and may possess outstanding abilities in certain areas. Understanding your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and focusing on proven educational methods and therapies will help your child be as successful as possible.

Bottom line

Babies born prematurely are more likely than babies born full term to have learning and behavior problems. But help is available. Check out our table of contents for more information.

And if you have any questions, email or text


Physical therapy – can it help your preemie?

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

Preemie walkingMany children born prematurely may need help catching up with developmental milestones such as sitting, crawling or walking. They may need assistance learning everyday activities such as dressing, too. Physical therapy – one type of habilitative service – may help. Habilitative services are those therapies that help a child develop new skills needed for everyday life.

October is National Physical Therapy Month. This is a great time to become aware of the benefits that physical therapy (PT) can offer your child, whether he was born prematurely or full term.

What does PT do?

Physical therapy can help your child increase strength and flexibility. It can also improve posture, balance, coordination and movement. PT usually focuses on large muscle groups, such as the legs, but it can also involve the entire body.

A physical therapist is a professional who has specific training in understanding the way a body works – especially muscle groups. She can assess your child and provide individualized therapy which will help him improve in the areas where he is weak. PTs are very creative in their approach to working with children. In fact, the therapy can be lots of fun, and most children look forward to their PT sessions.

Does insurance cover PT?

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), habilitative services must be covered by insurance. They are included in the ACA as Essential Health Benefits, which means they need to be covered under individual and small group health insurance plans. Check your state for specific details. For information on enrolling in your state’s marketplace for health insurance, go to or call 1-800-318-2596.

Early intervention may include PT at no cost to parents

If your child is under the age of three, he may be eligible for Early Intervention services, which is a federal program provided in every state. Physical therapy is one of many services available for eligible infants and toddlers if they qualify. Therapy is usually provided at no cost to parents.

If your child is age three or older, he may qualify for PT through your local school district as a Related Service. This post will tell you how to access it.

Bottom line

As with all delays or disabilities, it is important to seek help as early as possible. The sooner your child gets the help he needs, the sooner he can begin improving.

Have questions? Text or email

See other posts on Delays and Disabilities: how to help your child.


NICU parents can develop PTSD due to stress and trauma

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

parents in the NICUParents of NICU babies have been found to be at risk for developing stress disorders, according to research. It is very scary for parents to see their infant hooked up to monitors or undergoing serious medical procedures. Every parent’s reaction to the NICU journey is different and what is overwhelming or traumatic for one person might not be for another. But for some parents, it is possible for feelings of fear, grief, helplessness and continued anxiety to result in a stress disorder.

What is a stress disorder?

Stress disorders include ASD (acute stress disorder) or PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). These can develop in anyone who has seen or lived through a crisis or terrible event. You may have heard about PTSD in the news – many military veterans returning from active duty have developed it. The prolonged stress of deployment or the witnessing of traumatic events can trigger debilitating symptoms. But, PTSD can occur in anyone who has gone through a traumatizing event, including a NICU experience.

Every parent comes to the NICU with varying coping mechanisms, and react or handle the situation in their own, unique way. According to Stanford University researcher Dr. Richard Shaw, the NICU experience can be so traumatic that almost 60% of NICU parents were found to be at risk for PTSD. In some cases, the stress disorder continues for years after the baby’s birth.

It might seem logical that the longer a baby stays in the NICU, the more traumatic the experience may be for the parents. However, research shows that the impact of a shorter NICU stay, even less than two weeks, can lead to a parent developing ASD or PTSD. A stress disorder can occur along with postpartum depression (PPD), too.

How do ASD and PTSD differ?

ASD and PTSD share many of the same symptoms. The biggest difference between the two is when a parent’s symptoms begin.

  • ASD refers to symptoms that begin during the period from 2 days following an event up to 4 weeks post trauma. (The “trauma” in this case is the baby’s experiences in the NICU.) Symptoms usually start to occur while the baby is still in the NICU. ASD is a good indicator that the parent may later develop symptoms of PTSD.
  • PTSD symptoms occur later than ASD, starting from at least 4 weeks post trauma, and can last for years.

Both ASD and PTSD include symptoms such as trouble sleeping or staying awake, avoiding reminders of the event, and experiencing flashbacks, dreams/nightmares.

Additional symptoms of ASD include a lack of emotional responsiveness – you feel numb and like you’re in a fog.

Other symptoms of PTSD symptoms include physical responses (like a racing heartbeat or sweating) when reminded of the event, a depressed mood, persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs about yourself, little interest in activities, irritability, difficulty concentrating, hyper vigilance and startling easily.

What can lessen the likelihood of developing a stress disorder?

Researchers have found that NICU parents cope better when they:

  • feel involved with their baby’s care, such as reading to their baby, practicing kangaroo care (skin to skin bonding), decorating the isolette, taking the baby’s temperature, etc.
  • feel heard – they feel free to ask questions and fully understand what is happening to their baby in the NICU.
  • take care of themselves.
  • reach out and receive support from other NICU parent graduates who have been in their situation. March of Dimes offers an online community, Share Your Story, which is specifically designed to provide support and comfort to parents of babies in the NICU.
  • understand that the feelings of fear, anxiety, sleep interruption or loss of appetite might pop up unexpectedly once they go home.

Bottom line

The NICU experience can be difficult and even traumatizing. If you or someone you know has a baby in the NICU, please share this post with them so that they get the help they need. Parents suffering from ASD or PTSD can receive treatment from a healthcare provider who is trained in stress disorders (such as a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist).

Have questions? Text or email them to

See other posts on how to help your child including how to transition from the NICU to Early Intervention services.