Prematurity and NICU

A premature birth is defined as a baby being born before 37 weeks of gestation. Sub-categories of a preterm birth are based on gestation:

  • Extremely preterm – less than 28 weeks
  • Very preterm – 28-32 weeks
  • Moderate to late preterm – 32-27 weeks

Prematurity is defined as a birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Premature babies have much lower birth weights, therefore they suffer by missing out on the growth and development milestones that a full term (40 week) baby receives before birth. Preemies often face serious and lifelong health conditions such as brain bleed, respiratory problems, digestive issues, vision loss, developmental & intellectual disabilities and cerebral palsy.

According to the National Academy of Medicine, premature birth accounts for more than $26 billion dollars annually in avoidable medical costs.

In 2017, the US preterm birth rate rose for the second straight year, accounting for 9.8% of all US births. The United States is rated among the worst of high-resource nations and is among the top 10 countries in the world for the highest preterm birth rates. These numbers are rising, creating a very worrisome trend.

Over 15 million babies globally are born too soon every single year (that’s 1 out of every 10 births) and an estimated 1 million do not reach their first birthday. Complications due to prematurity is the number one cause of infant death in children under five, globally.

Experts don’t always understand the reason babies are being born too soon. Certain risk factors such as geographical location, health and pregnancy issues, social characteristics and health behaviors can be contributing factors. Sadly, 40% of the time, the cause for a premature delivery is random and unknown.

Premature babies are cared for in a NICU, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. There are 4 levels of NICU’s, based on the complexity of care provided, as well as the babies gestational age at birth.

Level I Basic Neonatal Care, providing care to healthy newborns and possibly those late preterm babies.

Level II – Specialty Care Nurseries, can care for babies born at 32 weeks of age or greater, known as moderately preterm. Some of these NICU’s can assist with respiratory issues.

Level III – Subspecialty NICU’s Care for very preterm infants, born as early as 27 weeks.

Level IV – Regional Subspecialty NICU’s are often found in regional academic medical centers and can provide the most complex level of neonatal care to micro-preemies, born as early as 22 weeks. This includes advanced diagnoses and treatments, sophisticated respiratory support and neonatal surgery.

The University of Washington Medical Center NICU is a level 4 NICU, providing care to premature babies from a 5-state region.

The Hudson David McNeel Foundation, founded in 2011, is here to RAISE AWARENESS & EDUCATE, help STRENGTHEN ADVOCACY for policies supporting families and babies, and FUND critical NICU programs, equipment, care and training. One day at a time, one dollar and a time and one life at a time. We donate 100% of every bit we raise and gift to critical, targeted needs within the NICU.

Please join us in making a difference.


Hudson David McNeel Foundation
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