Premature birth kills one baby every 30 seconds. World Prematurity Day is raising awareness to change this staggering statistic. 

Fifteen million babies are born prematurely worldwide every year. Of those fifteen million, more than one million will die; those that survive can face a lifetime of health complications and disability. World Prematurity Day strives to bring awareness to this global crisis.

Premature birth affects everyone, everywhere. In the United States, more than 500,000 babies are born too soon every year. The March of Dimes, a U.S.-based non-profit organization, works to educate the public about the risk factors for and health problems caused by premature birth. The March of Dimes releases an annual report card for each state in the U.S.; for 2012, the state of Alabama received an "F," due largely in part to a high percentage of uninsured women without access to prenatal care.

Prenatal care and proper nutrition are two of the most important steps a woman can take to prevent preterm birth. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is essential, as is taking a daily prenatal vitamin. Regular check-ups with a primary care physician or obstetrician are vital, as these appointments allow the doctor to check the growth and development of the baby throughout the pregnancy.

Life, however, can be unpredictable. Complications can arise during pregnancy that result in preterm birth. It's a frightening time for any mother, but with access to the appropriate health care, most moms can go on to deliver healthy babies.

I was diagnosed with preeclampsia at the beginning of my third trimester, and to be blunt, it was a nightmare.  I was placed on strict bed rest to prevent any further complications; I was hospitalized several times and even came close to delivering my daughter dangerously early. I remember those challenging months--we would spend hours researching each week of our little girl's growth and development and her chances of survival should she be born early (survival rates increase dramatically as the pregnancy nears 37 weeks, or "full term").

I was blessed to deliver a healthy baby--she was born at exactly 37 weeks. Although my little girl was technically considered a full term baby, she faced many of the same health issues of late-preterm babies (those born between 34 and 36 weeks gestation). She had issues regulating her temperature and blood sugar and spent time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) while her vital signs were regulated. Seeing my tiny, sweet girl  with an itty bitty IV in her arm and hooked up to those machines was something I will never forget--the memory of it still makes me cry.

While we were in the NICU, I met the parents of other babies in the unit. Their children had been there for days, weeks, even months. Their stories gave us the strength to make it through that challenging time. The doctors, nurses, and staff will always hold a special place in my heart for the dedication and care they showed for my baby girl.

My little Dolores, only 5 pounds and 10 ounces at birth
My little Dolores, only 5 pounds and 10 ounces at birth

We were fortunate enough to make it through our NICU experience relatively unscathed, but my heart aches for those who did not. November 17th--this Saturday--is World Prematurity Day. Please join me in raising awareness of this worthy cause. Tell your friends and take a moment to say a prayer for all the little babies who are born too soon.