World Prematurity Day: Parents at the helm, babies #BornTooSoon at the heart

World Prematurity Day, which takes place on 17 November, is a key day in the global health calendar that reaches millions of people each year through the media and events all over the world to ensure that the preterm birth prevention and care remain a global health priority. The theme for this year’s World Prematurity Day was Born too Soon: the right care, at the right time, in the right place. HNN celebrated it along with partners and, while we are still tallying results, it is clear that activities took place in more countries than ever before.

A glimpse at history

World Prematurity Day started with parents. The first international awareness day for preterm birth on 17 November was launched by European parent organizations in 2008. It has since evolved into a worldwide annual observance by development agencies, governments, professional associations, hospitals and parents.

Parents have always played a central role in the care of preterm babies. With developments in science, health care systems and social norms, their role evolved.

For most of history, families, especially women, were primarily responsible for all newborn care in the home environment. With a wave of advancements designed to improve survival in higher income countries in the late 19th and early 20th century, parents were excluded from the caregiving for hospitalized babies, partly due to concerns about infection. The result of this separation between newborns and parents had adverse consequences, including reduced bonding, neglect and abuse, as well as other physical and emotional issues for both parents and their children.

The right to be together

By the mid-20th century, the unintended consequences of this separation were beginning to be recognized by advocacy communities. New groups emerged led by parents in the U.S., Britain and Australia, and successfully lobbied for family-friendly hospital-wide changes, such as the families’ right to stay with their children. Parents also had a fundamental role in raising awareness among nurses and physicians that even very preterm newborns feel pain and discomfort.

Parents have a vital role to play in small and sick newborn care. As they consistently care for their own newborn, they can become “patient experts” with a deep knowledge of health issues. They often observe newborn responses, interact with the health-care team and meet with other parents and support groups.

Some parents will even study their newborn’s condition, engage in health research, and become active with public health and policy advocacy and lobbying. As a result, parents of small and sick newborns are a great asset as advisors to inpatient newborn care units seeking to improve quality, safety and family-centered care.

By working with local and regional parent support organizations, health-care providers and facility managers can provide or supplement resources to promote partnerships between parents and health-care teams, and influence policies and practices for affected families.

In all instances, it is critical to keep babies #BornTooSoon at the heart of all interventions, ensuring that their rights and their families’ rights are upheld and protected.



Learn about the role of parents, newborn care, rights and much more:


About the Author

Sections of this blog were written with Amialya Durairaj, an affected parent and advocate for preterm birth awareness and parent support, and Mary Kinney, Advisor in Newborn Health Advocacy for Saving Newborn Lives. 

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