SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — “It was a very terrifying experience.”
Jacquelyn Visscher told News 3 that not knowing what would happen to her newborn son, Carter, after he was born early at 27 weeks and five days worried her family.
Carter spent about seven weeks being cared for in Memorial Health’s neonatal intensive care unit.
“He had a very low birth weight, he was one pound, 15 ounces,” Visscher told News 3 as she held her baby boy.
“He just needed to learn how to do all the normal things, learn how to breathe and grow.”
Visscher and her family are not alone.
Memorial Health experts said more than 1,100 prematurely born babies spent time at the hospital this year.
With November recognized as National Prematurity Awareness Month, medical experts and affected families view it as a chance to draw attention to the nearly 400,000 premature babies born every year in the United States, and what can be done to prevent the serious issue.
“Preterm babies face problems with pretty much every organ in their body,” said Dr. Samantha Eschborn, a neonatologist at Memorial Health.
“They have trouble with breathing, feeding, keeping themselves warm, they have trouble with their neurological development, just about anything you could think of.”
Preterm, or premature, births, are a leading cause of infant mortality, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and babies who survive early births can go on to have short- and long-term health problems.
“Nationally, about one in 10 babies is born prematurely, and in the state of Georgia, recently it’s been about one in nine babies,” Eschborn told News 3.
She said its an issue that the hospital is taking seriously and is actively working to address.
“Both the neonatologists and obstetricians are working really hard to figure out where the medical gap is that we can work on getting better healthcare to moms so that their babies are not born prematurely.”
The March of Dimes 2019 Report Card rated Georgia with a grade of F, with a high preterm birth rate of 11.5 percent.
South Carolina was not far behind; it was given a D- grade, with a preterm birth rate of 11.3 percent.
“It’s really important for our babies and also for families that people know about prematurity and all the things that come with it,” Eschborn said.
“We work really hard to make sure that all of our babies grow and lead big, healthy lives, but they often need extra services until they’ve really reached their growth potential,” she said.
Increasing awareness about the issue is crucial, she said, in order to prevent future mothers from going into labor earlier than planned.
In terms of when mothers go into premature labor, there are just some things that medical experts will never be able to control, Eschborn told News 3, but there are certain factors that can be monitored during the pregnancy to lower the risk.
“Some of the most common problems are related to Mom’s blood pressure, or her blood sugars during pregnancy, and those things an obstetricians can care for and watch with Mom and help treat, so that we can keep Baby in longer,” she said.
Other factors for pregnant women to keep in mind is eating well, staying healthy and ensuring that illnesses during pregnancy are properly cared for and treated.
“[That way], we can help keep the babies healthy, too,” Eschborn said.
Baby Carter’s health is improving, and his family received good news two days ago.
He was transferred from Memorial Health’s NICU to the Intermediate Special Nursery.
His mother tells News 3 that the family has their fingers crossed that Carter will be home just in time for Christmas.
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, Visscher shared what she was thankful for.
“Definitely thankful for this little man here,” she said as Baby Carter cooed in her arms.
“He has shown me that I have much more strength than I ever thought I had.”