One in 10 babies, globally, are born prematurely every year. In Ireland, that means 4,500 babies are born early every year.
There are increasingly good outcomes for those babies who arrive before 37 weeks. We spoke to Regina Kelly from Cork about her experiences after her identical twin boys were born at just 34 weeks.
Initially, the doctors were afraid I was going to go into pre-term labour at 29 weeks. I was being constantly monitored and was given the tour of the NICU and told to expect a lot of tubes.
"In the end, the boys were born unresponsive at 34 weeks. I saw Tadhg for about five seconds but I didn't see Liam at all. They were brought straight to the neonatal intensive care unit for resuscitation and incubation. Liam, unfortunately, had a bleed on his brain and was rushed to Temple Street hospital in Dublin. That was really stressful because I remained in Cork with one baby and my husband, Brian had to travel to Dublin with our other son. We didn't know if he was going to survive. We also have a little girl, Isobel, who was almost two at the time. It is all a bit of a haze but I'll never forget how stressful that time was.
You just end up going through the motions. Liam came back to CUH after five days. Tadhg was able to come home after 3 weeks, but Liam spent 7 weeks in total in the hospital. It is hard to describe what it is like to see your baby so vulnerable, with alarms going off. You do eventually get used to them and the nurses are amazing - they almost talk in code, trying to reassure you while studiously watching the monitors. We were so happy to get them both home safely."
Regina says there were a number of issues during the first year of their birth - severe reflux, they were underweight and developed allergies. Both have been diagnosed with epilepsy and learning disabilities, but they are happy and very affectionate four-year-olds and they have surpassed everyone’s expectations.
"They are extremely loveable. Tadhg is really into hurling and rugby or anything with a ball. Liam loves books and playing with his brother. They are both very musical. They now go to preschool in Sunvalley Montessori and have great friends and we are very grateful for all their help and support. Their big sister, Isobel, just adores them too. We just take everything day by day and try to get on with things as much as possible."
Regina had this advice for those bringing home premature babies:
"Try to enjoy it. With all the stress that surrounds having a premature baby, it is easy to forget to enjoy the first few months. This is their babyhood and you should treasure it. Also, take all the help you can get. Not so much with minding the baby, but for the little things like doing a food shop or sticking on a wash. There are the little things that others can help with. My advice is to always say, yes, you can help."
What lovely little boys!
This Friday marks World Prematurity Day, which aims to raise awareness of the challenges of preterm birth.
To mark the occasion, the Irish Neonatal Health Alliance (INHA) will launch its new educational guide, ‘Next Steps…the Journey Home' which aims to support families by making the transition from hospital to home easier.
For more information visit INHA.ie.