Sunshine Coast University Hospital celebrates World Prematurity Day

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The Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service (SCHHS) is shining a light on preterm babies and their families, to celebrate World Prematurity Day (November 17), and raise awareness around premature birth.

Sunshine Coast University Hospital (SCUH) Director of Neonatology Dr Lizelle Weber said one in 10 births are premature, and preterm births have a significant impact on families and the health care system.

“Health care literacy in the community regarding premature birth and the signs of premature birth is very low as this topic is often not discussed during pregnancy. Families are told of this wonderful journey of a normal pregnancy and birth, and then the unexpected happens and they are deeply traumatised,” Dr Weber said.

“Parents often don’t know that places like the Neonatal unit exist until they have a baby admitted there. It’s important that we talk about the fact that not all pregnancies and births are textbook perfect, but also emphasise that modern medicine has greatly improved the outcomes for premmie babies and families.

“Here at SCUH, we care for babies from 29 weeks gestation. Our entire model of care at SCUH has been developed with the parents and baby at the centre, as this family-centred model of care is the ethos of our unit. A parent can stay in the unit with their baby and be involved in every single moment of their baby’s care and decision making."

This year the theme is ‘a parent’s embrace: a powerful therapy’.

Dr Weber said, when possible, skin to skin contact is so important because it increases the bond between parents and their baby.

“It increases milk supply which is often one of the only things mums of premature babies feel like they have control over and can contribute to their babies’ care. It can also stabilise the babies’ vital functions and lead to a decrease in oxygen requirements and improve temperature control for babies.”

According to the Miracle Babies Foundation, more than 27,000 babies are born early in Australia each year.

In the 2021/22 financial year, the Sunshine Coast Neonatal Unit cared for 1208 babies in its neonatal ward, compared with 678 in 2017/18.

Poppy’s story

Poppy Higgins was born at 26+6 weeks gestation on August 10. Her mother Amy attended SCUH and was rushed to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s (RBWH) Hospital as Poppy was under 29 weeks. Poppy was in the RBWH for 9 weeks, before being transferred to SCUH. She was discharged last week after 93 days all up in hospital (31 days at SCUH).

Poppy weighed just 833 grams when she was born, she now weighs more than 2.8 kilograms.

“It’s scary – the first few weeks when you don’t understand any of the terminology, what they’re talking about, what the machines are doing, what her oxygen stats are meant to be, her heart rate, her respiratory rate – it’s hard to get your head around that stuff,” Amy said.

“I think awareness is so important. Before we came into it, we had no idea how many premature babies were born, the statistics, the things that prevent preterm labour or what causes preterm labour. Mine was an infection, I had no idea an infection could cause preterm labour.

“It’s hard being away from your partner or your family, especially for mums who have other kids at home – you either feel guilty for being at home or you feel guilty for being at the hospital.”