f you're like us, you've been glued to Discovery Health's new show "NICU," which follows the ups and downs of dedicated doctors treating the smallest of people: premature babies. It's both heartwrenching and uplifting seeing these incredible doctors work with parents and these amazing infants.
We sat down with Dr. Susan Dulkerian, who appears on the show, and asked her about the ins and outs of one of medicine's toughest jobs.
momlogic: Interesting fact: The U.S. is on par with Africa in preemie births. Explain.
Dr. Susan Dulkerian: Statistics are reported based on different definitions. Sadly, in developing nations -- which includes most of the African nations -- babies born weighing less than 1,000 grams (or a little over two pounds) cannot survive, since they do not have the technology to care for those infants. NICUs do not exist in most countries to deliver intensive care. Those extremely small infants are not included in their statistics, as they are not expected to survive. In our country, all babies born weighing greater than 500 grams (a little over a pound) are considered "live births" and are included in our birthrate statistics. Therefore, our rates are comparable to those of developing nations.
That said, preterm birth is still high in our country -- and can be improved by early and complete prenatal care, good nutrition, smoking cessation and other interventions that the OB can discuss with you. Decreasing preterm birth continues to be one of the major emphases of the ACOG (American College of Obstetricians), March of Dimes and local community organizations.
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ml: What are the causes of premature labor and birth?
SD: There are many. Pre-pregnancy maternal illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity all can contribute to preterm labor and birth. Pregnancy-related maternal illnesses such as diabetes, preeclampsia and infection can contribute to preterm birth and labor. Infant-related conditions such as abnormalities of anatomy (birth "defects"), multiple gestation and infection can contribute to preterm labor and/or birth, and/or the need to deliver a baby early (i.e., when the decision is made to deliver the baby without the mother going into labor).
ml: What was it like being a part of the filming of "NICU" on Discovery Health?
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SD: It was a lot of fun. The actual filming of "NICU" in our unit was simple. The crew was sensitive to the family and what was going on with the babies. They truly filmed what happens every day in the NICU. I hope that viewers will get a better idea of the care delivered to infants and their families, even those who are critically ill.
ml: What is the benefit of this show for parents?
SD: Hopefully, parents and other viewers will see the incredible compassionate care delivered to the infants and the whole family. I hope that they will see an ironically happy place. Even the care of the sickest infants can be an uplifting place, as most babies get better with lots of great care, love and time. Time -- the time babies have to spend in the NICU before being stable for discharge to home -- can be the most difficult [thing] for NICU families to endure. Family and friends of NICU parents will get a better idea of what their loved ones are enduring during this difficult time. Their support of NICU parents is so important. For instance, just offering to watch older siblings so that NICU parents can visit their infant in the hospital without the other children can be a huge help.
If you have an infant who needs to be cared for in a NICU, visit as often as you can, ask lots of questions and take care of yourself! If you can, try to provide breast milk for your infant, as breast milk provides the best and most protective nutrition for your infant. Most NICU's have lactation support, and many have breast-pump loaner programs. If you read something in books or on the Internet that concerns you about your infant and the care she/he is receiving, discuss that with the NICU team. There is so much good information [out there], but other information can be misleading -- and a little scary.
Finally, try to keep a journal of the time you and your infant are in the NICU. It can be helpful to put feelings and memories -- good and bad -- on paper, so that you will have them to reflect on later.
You can watch new episodes of "NICU" every Thursday at 10 PM PST on Discovery Health.