November is Prematurity Awareness Month and November 17th is celebrated as Prematurity Awareness Day. In the United States, one in ten babies are born preterm, defined as being born before 37 weeks. Many of them will go on to receive medical care and assistance throughout their lives without ever being asked if they were born preterm.
Villanova University professor Michelle Kelly, PhD, CRNP, CNE, recently published recommendations for health care providers on the lifelong risks associated with being born preterm.
“For health care providers, the bottom line is this: regardless if they see adult or pediatric patients, being born preterm can pose lifelong risks and affect future health,” says Kelly, who teaches at the Fitzpatrick College of Nursing and is also a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Rhode Island’s College of Nursing. “In children, math and executive functions are impacted; in adults, health risks for conditions such as high blood pressure and anxiety are possible. For health care professionals to ask the question and know that preterm birth history can pose a series of risks is the most important thing to take away from the recommendations.”
Kelly’s recommendations, which were recently published in the journal Early Human Development, are based on a review of previously published articles on preterm birth. The recommendations are centered on three critical areas for health care professionals: assessment and diagnosis, prevention and management and referral and treatment.
“What complicates preterm birth history is that gestational age and birth weight alone do not predict outcomes” Kelly says. That is why screening and risk assessment for all those born preterm is so important. “As healthcare professionals, we need to ask whether this person was born preterm and then use that information to assess overall risk. For a child, that might mean referring for services or educational support during critical developmental periods. For an adult that might mean starting a treatment earlier because of the additional risk factor.
“Asking the question (of being born preterm) and knowing that the answer conveys a set of risks is the biggest thing people can learn,” Kelly says.