Parents of premature babies know that their children are likely to face certain complications as they work to catch up to full-term babies. In most cases, babies born prior to week 24 have survival chances near zero, leading doctors to be rather cautious about going to extremes to help them survive. But every now and again, there is a miracle baby that demonstrates a will and ability to survive when statistics say it should not happen.
The smallest, most premature baby to survive in the UK appears to be Aaliyah Hart, born three months premature in 2003. She weighed just 12 ounces and was 7 inches in length when she joined mum outside of the womb. Doctors gave her just a 1% chance of survival due to severely underdeveloped lungs and very low birth weight.
When Aaliyah was first born, she was so small that she fit comfortably in the palm of her mother's hand. Almost immediately, she astounded medical personnel with her apparent will to survive. That strong will continues today as Aaliyah grows up, attends school, and does all the things other children her age do.
As of 2013, Aaliyah was relatively equal to her peers in size and weight. She excelled at sports, being very good at running and football. She also enjoys rounders and gymnastics. Mum Lorraine Hart is continually amazed every day by her daughter, who was predicted to die in the womb. Aaliyah's survival and subsequent progress is a testament to her, her mother, and medical science that now makes it possible for babies to survive the extreme circumstances that come with preterm birth.
Even better is the fact that Aaliyah is not alone by any stretch of the imagination. Survival rates for premature babies are increasing all the time. It could be that the most premature baby to survive a decade from now may end up being born weeks earlier than Aaliyah was.
Aaliyah's story gives all of us that are concerned about premature babies great hope for the future. We know that more of these precious little children both survive and go on to lead wonderful lives. And we fully expect survival rates to improve in the future. Yet that does not mean giving birth to a premature child is not without its challenges.
Although we have not spoken to Aaliyah's mother, we imagine she could tell us lots of stories about the challenges she, her daughter, and her healthcare team faced in the days and weeks following Aaliyah's birth. We imagine she was as frightened as any other mother with the thought of what could happen to her child. Giving birth prematurely is definitely a scary business.
For example, seeing pictures of Aaliyah is a reminder of how important birth weight is for babies. Birth weight is directly related to the level of development reached in the womb, so a low birth weight indicates less than ideal development. The smaller the baby is at the time of birth, the greater the concern is. In Aaliyah's case, weighing in at 12 ounces was certainly cause for concern.
In addition to low birth weight, doctors have to be concerned about lung development, the baby's ability to fight infection, and other potential complications that could arise as a result of premature birth. Mum has to be concerned about learning to breastfeed, clothe, and bathe her precious child while keeping her both safe and comfortable. There is a learning curve to be sure.
Being the mother of the most premature baby to survive, we suspect Aaliyah's mother would echo every other parent of a premature baby in saying that all of the effort put into her child was well worth it. Every life is precious, but none more so than your own child. The parents of premature babies would scale the highest mountain and cross the deepest ocean to provide the care their children need.
As the parent of a premature baby yourself, you have the opportunity to experience something that most other parents know nothing about. Yes, some days can be hard and long. Other days can be full of questions that do not have a lot of answers. But all of those days can add up to a lifetime of joy as you watch your child grow into the young man or woman who makes you a proud parent.
Worldwide, approximately one in every ten babies is born prematurely. The UK alone will see close to 80,000 premature births this year. So while it may be some time before another child sets the record for being the most premature baby to survive, many more will be born to parents who love them just as deeply.
It is our hope that we can help you in your journey by providing as much information as possible about premature birth and postnatal care. Please take as much time as you need to browse this website for the information you are looking for. Also, don't hesitate to ask your doctors, your midwife, and every member of your healthcare team any questions you might have. There are so many people who want to help you along this journey of birthing and caring for your premature baby. Take advantage of that help.