You caress your growing baby bump as your child nudges you from inside. You smile because of the little movements he’s making assure you that he’s growing big and strong.
Suddenly, your tummy tightens. It’s uncomfortable, but you simply brush it off and think it’ll pass soon.
But the tightening seems to spread to your lower back - that hasn’t happened before. You feel the sensation three more times within the hour, and it swells and occurs more frequently in the succeeding hours. It ultimately feels like waves crashing on top of another.
“I’m only 30 weeks along,” you say to yourself. "It’s too early.”
Now you’re stressed - still in denial that you could already be in labour. You consult your doctor. He instructs you to get yourself to the hospital immediately. Within the hour after you arrive, your baby decides it’s time for his big arrival.
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“Congratulations, you’re a mum!” the hospital staff greets you. But you have mixed feelings about delivering prematurely - elation, exhaustion, apprehension - as one big question loops in your head: “What’s going to happen to my baby?”
You look longingly at your child as the nurse carts him off to the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit. You didn’t even get to hold him.
“His survival was my first concern”
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Premature babies are defined as babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy.
Globally, one in 10 babies is born prematurely. That’s 41,095 each day, and more than 15 million each year. And that number is on the rise. In Singapore, nearly one in 10 babies is born prematurely*.
In majority of the cases, mothers are caught off guard when they go into labour prematurely. For babies born too soon and their parents, this is a stressful situation that can have a dramatic effect on families as well as communities.
In support of babies born too early, their mums and even mums-to-be, Abbott has initiated the DreamBig education series, which aims to spread awareness on prematurity and help turn small starts into big futures.
In this first article in the series, Anne and Liqin, mums of preterm babies, openly share their experiences and emotions on going into labour prematurely. We hope their accounts will help you, mum, to mentally and emotionally brace for the surprises - pleasant or otherwise - that pregnancy may throw at you.
“I didn't see this coming”
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This is a common refrain among mums of premies as premature births are usually unplanned for.
Anne, whose first and only child, Travis, was born prematurely, woke up early one morning in her 32nd week because of a “feeling of taking a poop.” What appeared normal evolved quickly into labour contractions at intervals of 10 minutes and subsequently five minutes. As a first time mum, she tried her best to calm down and made her way to the hospital.
For second-time mums, going into early labour is no less daunting. Liqin, who experienced a premature birth with her second baby, was 33 weeks pregnant when she started having contractions. While she hoped that it was just a false alarm, the contractions continued. Liqin was 3cm dilated by the time she received a consultation and was quickly admitted to the hospital and given medication to try and delay her delivery.
[#]"Preterm Birth Fact Sheet No. 363.” World Health Organization. Available here. November 2014.
[*] Speech by Minister for Health Mr Gan Kim Yong at the Official Opening of the renovated Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, 6 July 2013. Available here.
“It started to get real”
Most mums will naturally be in denial during the initial phases of preterm labour.
“I even drank milk, thinking that it might help me with my ‘constipation,’” recounts Anne.
But as labour signs persist and advance, denial soon gives way to reality. For some mums, events unfolded very quickly with twists and turns.
Within two hours, Liqin was fully dilated and ready for delivery. However, the baby was found to be in breech position and was rushed to the operating theatre for an emergency C-section. With strong contractions and the urge to push, Liqin eventually delivered her baby naturally in breech position.
“My beautiful but delicate baby”
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Most parents dream of the moment their child is born and holding them shortly after. But for many parents of preterm babies, this moment of embrace could turn out quite different.
Liqin only got to see her son, YH, born seven weeks early, in the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) four hours after delivery. Her son weighed below 2kg, about the size of a pineapple. “I almost didn't dare to touch him,” remembers Liqin.
Feeding a preterm baby was also a completely different ball game. Her son had to be fed through a tube and could only drink 2ml of milk per feeding three days after birth. This would be a heart-wrenching sight for any mums.
Some mums had to wait longer before having physical contact with their newborn.
Anne was one of them. Her son Travis, born eight weeks early, had to be isolated in the NICU to prevent infections. After five long days, Anne finally got to hold her baby, kiss him, and bring him home.
Birthing is a life-changing and miraculous event for mothers. For Liqin, Anne, and other mums of babies who are born early, the experience exceeds these superlatives. Thanks to improvements in knowledge and technology related to neonatal care as well as advancements in nutritional science, YH and Travis are healthy thriving children with big futures ahead of them.
Continue to follow us in this DreamBig education series as we explore pertinent topics related to preterm births and babies, from the causes and prevention of prematurity to feeding and nourishing babies born early. In our next article, we get expert’s answers to mums’ FAQs on prematurity.
Abbott is a global healthcare company devoted to improving life through the development of products and technologies that span the breadth of healthcare. With a portfolio of leading, science‐based offerings in diagnostics, medical devices, nutritionals and branded generic pharmaceuticals, Abbott serves people in more than 150 countries and employs approximately 73,000 people.