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On the first World Prematurity Awareness Day on 17 November 2011, a global survey of 1,300 mothers and mothers-to-be reveals the need to increase the level of information on premature birth and the associated risks available to new and prospective mothers. The global survey results also reveal the impact of premature birth on mothers, who are burdened by worry for their child’s future and complications in their development. The survey was sponsored by Abbott, the global healthcare company.

Complications of prematurity are the number one cause of death for babies during the first month of life. Mothers and mothers-to-be, however, showed a low awareness of the extent of prematurity and all the associated risks for premature babies. Over two thirds of those surveyed did not know the incidence of premature birth, and 42% of mothers underestimated the level to be far below the actual 10% incidence rate.1

The findings highlight the emotional pressures experienced by mothers of premature babies. About half of all mothers felt stressed upon giving birth, but those who had had premature infants experienced significantly more anxiety, guilt, fear and powerlessness compared to mothers of full-term infants. The survey also showed that 42% of mothers with premature babies are concerned about the long-term health complications, and 36% believe that they will fall behind in physical development. Their concern extends beyond health concerns; 1 in 4 mothers (24%) believe prematurity will mean that their child will fail to achieve at the same level as other children at school.

“These findings reflect what we hear from parents in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit,” explained Dr. Leonora Hendson, Director of the Neonatal and Infant Follow-up Clinic at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton. “Parents of preemie babies are very worried and want information that will help them to manage the risks and ensure their children are happy and healthy.”

Katharina Straub, an Edmonton mother of twins born at 27 weeks, describes how stressful her experience was. “I had no idea that I was at risk of having my children early, despite the fact that I was an older mother and was having multiples. It just wasn’t something my doctor discussed with me,” said Straub. “I was shocked to end up in the neonatal unit, with my twins in incubators. The experience was very stressful. It goes from being something joyful to something filled with worry.”

The survey revealed that mothers of premature babies rely on physicians as one of their main sources of information. These mothers also demonstrated their need for additional support once they were discharged from the hospital, with half of mothers wanting more information on the risks associated with preterm births, additional medical care and more follow-up from the physician or nurse for their child. The survey showed that mothers should be better informed of key health risks for both premature and full term babies. For example, at least 32% of women are unaware of the high risk season for respiratory infection in their country, a time when premature infants are most in danger of a potentially serious respiratory infection. This is of particular importance for mothers of premature babies, as the results showed that twice as many premature babies had contracted a respiratory infection compared to full-term babies. Furthermore, 40% of mothers with premature babies were not aware of simple preventative measures that can be taken to protect their child against respiratory infection.

Silke Mader, Executive Board Chairwoman, European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants, comments, “As many as 1 in 10 babies are born prematurely and it is vital that access to information and support for prospective and new parents is stepped up. On this day – the first ever World Prematurity Awareness Day – we are encouraging greater awareness, access to information, and emotional support for pregnant women and mothers of premature babies. This is the beginning of a long journey to raise awareness of prematurity and its risks.”

The global prematurity survey was conducted in 13 countries including Canada. It gathered responses from 1,300 parents of premature infants and full-term infants, as well as prospective parents. The primary focus was to assess the understanding and awareness about prematurity in general, and the burden of premature birth and its associated risks.

About World Prematurity Day
The first World Prematurity Day, previously known as Prematurity Awareness Day, is taking place on 17 November 2011. It is an initiative of the European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants (EFCNI), March of Dimes, National Premmie Foundation and LittleBigSouls.

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