Life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit: One Mother’s Story

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Premature births—those that occur before 37 weeks of gestation—are associated with one-third of all infant deaths and account for nearly 45 percent of children with cerebral palsy, 35 percent of children with vision impairment, and 25 percent of children with cognitive or hearing impairment.

In the United States, more than half a million babies are born prematurely each year. More than 70 percent of premature infants are born between 34 and 36 weeks. Another 22 percent are born between 28 and 33 weeks and 6 percent are born before 28 weeks.

The estimated cost of these preterm admissions totals $5.8 billion. This figure represents 47 percent of the costs for all infant hospitalizations. Additional costs associated with preterm birth in the United States are estimated to be $26 billion annually. This includes the costs of medical care of the infants and mothers, as well as the long-term care of children born preterm.

Interestingly, the cost for non-surviving infants is greater than the cost for those who survive. This reflects the tendency to use all means necessary when treating an infant.

Those infants who do survive, especially those born at the extremes of prematurity and with very low birth weights, are at continued risk for recurrent hospitalizations, neurological and developmental disabilities, chronic health issues, growth impairment and other health issues that extend into adulthood, such as insulin resistance, hypertension, and decreased reproductive capacity.

Dr. Alison Sweeney knows one of the most daunting rotations for pediatric residents and medical students is the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Few come to the experience as a parent and many are intimidated by the machinery and size of the infants. As a way to better understand the perspectives of parents with infants in the unit, Sweeney produced multimedia pieces about three mothers. Here are the words of one mother, whose daughter, Charlotte, was born at 28 weeks.

 

Dr. Sweeney shares this project with Duke medical students in the following talk:

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