Saturday, December 4, 2010

Preemie Problems

            About 12.9 million babies around the world are born prematurely (Interl).  Almost every baby born premature requires a certain amount of special treatment and care.  The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, provides a place especially for this purpose.  Although it may seem daunting to the uneducated public, the NICU offers 24 hour care for premature infants who need constant observation.  Even though it provides an excellent environment for children to begin to grow, many children can suffer detrimental effects as a result of their time spent in the NICU.  Physically, the premature baby, or “preemie,” can develop many different problems, including being developmentally delayed, physical deformities, Autism and other diseases such as eye problems.  Also, a range of different emotions, including grief, sadness and guilt affect many parents whose children are in the NICU.   These emotions can lead to a strain in the parent’s relationship and have many long-term effects.  In addition, a financial burden quickly results due to the hospital bills and extra care necessary for the preemie.  Premature children and their time spent in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit may have numerous negative effects on both them and their family.
            As a result of being born prematurely, numerous preemies experience physical problems immediately after spending time in the NICU that ultimately affect them for years to come.  Many preemies develop slower than the average child.  This results from their “fragile birth weight and medical complications that [can] leave [them] prone to other challenges later in life” (Anderson).  Developmental disabilities lead to a child who lags behind his age group and thus remains more immature than other children.  As a result of spending a large amount of time in the NICU, many preemies develop physical deformities.  One common deformity that may result from extensive time spent in the NICU is Plagiocephaly.  This deformity is common in premature babies because “[their] skull [is] softer than full-term babies and with [their] extended time in the NICU (not being held as often), [they can develop] a deformation of the skull” (Gibson).  Children with plagiocephaly must wear a “cranial remodeling helmet” (Gibson) which helps to reshape the skull.  Also, developmental problems can result due to the weight of the helmet.  For example, a child may not have the ability to lift his head or crawl because he does not have the necessary muscle to do so.  This developmental challenge can also cause a child to lag behind other children his age.  Other serious diseases could develop from premature birth.  Autism, a neurological disorder, has lately been connected with premature birth (Bohan).  A recent study states that “one-quarter of babies born extremely premature had signs of autism as they approached their second birthday” (Bohan).  Autism greatly impacts the lives of children by not allowing them to communicate effectively with others.  This devastating disease dramatically alters the lives of many preemies.  In addition to autism, eye problems may also result from a premature birth.  Some children “undergo laser eye surgeries while in the intensive care” (Anderson) in order to help correct these problems.  These eye problems can lead to children needing glasses or even going blind later in life due to their premature birth.  The physical effects babies could experience due to being born early may cause immediate and long-term problems that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
            When parents learn that their child needs intensive care due to an early birth, they experience numerous transitory emotions.  They feel overwhelmed, frustrated, sad and guilty.  Parents also grieve over the loss of expectations.  Commonly, they begin feeling overwhelmed at the first sign of complications.  This develops due to the many changes taking place in the child and parents’ lives, as well as the new environment in which the parents tend to spend a large amount of time.  To many parents, the NICU seems like a “daunting place containing high-tech equipment, a tangle of wires and tubes, the sounds of beeps and alarms and tiny, fragile infants” (“Neonatology”).  The NICU usually overwhelms the parents because they do not understand the purpose of the numerous machines necessary to sustain and monitor their child’s life.  But, after spending countless days there, the parents begin to understand the need for these machines, and these emotions tend to subside.  Also, many parents feel frustrated during the immediate period after having a preemie.  The fact that “[their] child [has] been placed in a difficult situation right at the start of [their] life” (“Life After”) causes the frustration within the parents.  In many cases, anger results, which causes tension begins to break down relationships between the parents and other family members.  Soon after this emotion, many mothers and fathers experience sadness during their time spent with their child in the NICU.  Brooke Gibson, a mother with first-hand experience, commented, “I was so sad to see [our child] hooked up to all the tubes and… not being able to hold him very much.”  At times, the parents’ sadness can become so great that they begin to believe that they will never bring their baby home.  In addition, many mothers also experience grief after the birth of a premature child.  This emotion typically results from a mother “dealing with ‘altered expectations’ and coming to terms with the situation” (Gibson).  When a woman must terminate her pregnancy early due to an unexpected complication, she must begin to realize that her child is not perfect, and will not experience an uneventful infancy.  Every mother wishes for these things, so losing these hopes and dreams causes the mother to grieve the loss of them.  Unlike women, men do not typically experience such a strong sense of grief, leading to a misunderstanding in their relationship.  Along with grief, guilt also tends to set in soon after a preemie is born.  Gibson states that she “battled guilt and blamed [herself] for not being able to carry [her baby] full term.”  Guilt also exists within mothers of preemies because they “feel inadequate,” because of this (“Emotional Support”).  Generally, the guilt felt by mothers isolates her from the father causing a strained relationship between them.  Immediately following the birth of a preemie, both parents experience an influx of emotions which may ultimately strain their relationship with one another.
            These emotional responses after the birth of a premature child result in many long-term consequences.  A lack of communication between parents usually comes as a result of the grieving process.  Many times, “mothers take longer than fathers to grieve over not delivering a healthy baby, and fathers may not understand this” (“Emotional Support”).  The lack of communication leads to isolation, frustration and anger with one another.  Many times, anger surfaces simply because they do not understand the other person’s emotions.  As a result of miscommunication, frustration between the parents often leads to difficult times for the family.  This tends to affect both parents as they “become frustrated over the roller coaster of emotions they feel [during the child’s time in the NICU]” (“Emotional Support”).  Frustration with the situation causes parents to lash out at one another causing the cycle of miscommunication and frustration to continue.  This leads to many unhealthy relationships and may place an incredible strain upon the couple’s marriage.
            Along with emotional effects, parents also acquire an incredible financial burden due to a preemie needing treatment from the NICU and other services for the remainder of his life.  Bills for hospitalization and treatment in the NICU impact many families in a negative way.  Some bills “have reached about $800,000” (Fischer) for a stay in the NICU.  Bills of this magnitude overwhelm many parents, especially those who did not financially prepare for a premature child.  As a relief to some parents, some insurance companies will cover these hospital stays, but this is not true for all.  Multiple “insurance companies may not cover all aspects of your baby’s stay” (Morrissette) but only parts of the child’s necessary treatment.   Parents must pay out of pocket for the extra tests or treatments required for the preemie.  These procedures increase the financial burden upon parents, and, in combination with emotional effects, the bills may also cause tension within the parent’s relationship.  In addition, after the child leaves the NICU, some babies require a visiting nurse to help with care for the infant or a child with a disability.  But just like other preemie treatments, “this can be costly” (“Life After”).  Parents must be prepared to sacrifice an exorbitant amount of money in order to give their child a chance of survival.  Some parents may not possess the funds necessary to provide the expensive treatment for their child.  As a result, many families fall into debt due to the financial costs of a preemie.  The financial burden of having a premature baby and caring for the preemie generally result in debt and tension within the family.
Working to support these families in their time of need, numerous organizations have made it their mission to help the families of premature babies.  The March of Dimes works towards helping the world have healthier babies.  They do this through raising “public awareness” as well as funding “promising research studies” to help “support medical advances and knowledge” (“Prematurity Campaign”) about premature babies.  The March of Dimes attempts help prevent the birth of preemies as well as aid the treatment of babies who have already been prematurely born.  By dealing with different sides of the issue, the March of Dimes hopes to reduce both the number of premature births and the mortality rate of preemies.  Another such organization, The Ronald McDonald House, focuses widely upon providing for the needs of parents with ill children.  The organization states that their goal is to provide “a ‘home-away-from-home’ for families [of ill children] so they can stay close by their hospitalized child at little or no cost” (“Ronald McDonald House”).  These houses allow families to focus on the treatment of the child, and it reduces the overall cost of the child’s hospital stay.  Organizations like the March of Dimes and the Ronald McDonald House participate in having a positive influence on families of preemies. 
Having a premature baby leads to an incredible amount of problems, not only physically for the child, but also emotionally and financially for the parents.   The physical problems that can also result from premature birth, especially serious diseases like Autism, can increase the financial and emotional stress placed on the parents for the remainder of the child’s life.  This tension can be detrimental to the parent’s relationship and cause other long-term emotional effects.  Parents may also isolate themselves during this time as a result of the emotional stress placed on them as their child’s hovers between life and death.  In order to get involved with the fight against premature birth, organizations such as the March of Dimes and the Ronald McDonald House accept donations for their charity.  Many also have openings for volunteers if one wishes to serve and make a difference in the lives of families with preemies.  Also, it is important to continually support families with preemies and help the family in any way possible.  As a friend or family member, this support and sense of community will help them cope with the rollercoaster of emotions as their child fights for his life.

Works Cited
Anderson, Travis. “Newborn Hope.” Rochester Review. Winter 2003-04:16-21. SIRS Researcher. Web. 29 Oct 2010.
Bohan, Suzanne. "Study: Premature Babies More Likely to Develop Autism." San Mateo County Times (San Mateo, CA). 02 Apr 2008: n.p. SIRS Researcher. Web. 14 Nov 2010.
“Emotional Support.” Spencer’s Hope. Google. Web. 7 Nov 2010.
Gibson, Brooke. Email Interview. 5 Nov 2010.
Interl, Jeneen, and I. "The Prematurity Puzzle." Newsweek 1 Nov 2010: 42. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Web. 14 Nov 2010.
“Life After the NICU.” Baby First. 2010. Google. Web. 7 Nov 2010.
Morrissette, Cheryl. “Cost of NICU Care.” Google. 28 May 2010.Web. 7 Nov 2010.
“Neonatology.” Magill’s Medical Guide, 4th Rev. ed. 1 Dec 2008. eLibrary. Web. 29 Oct 2010.
“Prematurity Campaign.” March of Dimes. Google. 2010. Web. 17 Nov 2010.
“Ronald McDonald House.” Ronald McDonald House Charities. Google. n.d. Web. 17 Nov 2010.

Children's Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

St. Louis Children's Hospital strives to provide the best, most personalized care for a wide range of children.  This includes infants within the neonatal intensive care unit.  With nationally known surgical specialists, this hospital can provide incredible care for a developing baby.  Along with prestigous care, Children's Hospital provides a safe, secluded environment for parents to visit and bond with their baby.  The rooms are spacious and comfortable, making it easy on parents who wish to stay with their child throughout their stay in the NICU.

Take a virtual tour of a typical NICU patient's room by clicking here.

For a complete tour of the hospital, click here.

Being A Neonatal Nurse

This video discusses what it is like to work in the NICU with premature babies.

Family Support Systems for NICU Babies

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Common Diagnoses in the NICU

Babies in the NICU need special care for many different reasons.  Some common diseases include Hydrocephalus, Apena and Jaundice.  

To learn more about these common diseases visit:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Statistics about Preemies

  • 543,000 babies, or 1 in 8, are born prematurely each year.
  • Premature birth is the number 1 killer of newborns.
  • Premature babies cost ten times more than healthy babies.