CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – Doctors at UNC Children’s Hospital are seeing an increase in the number of infants born prematurely.
Nationally, the premie birth rate is getting worse for the first time in eight years.
Eleven days ago, Anne McGraw gave birth to her first child, Clara Louise, but to McGraw’s surprise, she came four weeks early.
“It’s been really shocking at first,” said McGraw. “I did not want this to happen starting with that she was rushed out of the delivery room. You don’t really know what’s going on that’s pretty scary.”
The neonatal intensive care unit at UNC Children’s Hospital treats more than 800 babies a year. Doctors say the number of infants born 15 to 18 weeks early increased by nearly 50 percent between 2013 and 2015.
“We wish there was more data and scientific research that would kind of tell us what to do in certain situations,” said Dr. Melissa Bauserman, neonatologist.
So UNC Children’s is currently studying more than 1,500 babies born at least three months early. The goal of the study is to find out if they’ll encounter health problems later in life, and find ways to prevent preterm births in the future.
Tamara Everman has an older daughter and didn’t experience any issues with her first pregnancy, but her son Corbyn arrived five weeks early and has already battled two life threatening illnesses.
“Just feeling helpless and not being able to help your baby is just something you never wish on any family,” said Everman. “Just the fear of possibly losing your baby and you’ve only had him a few weeks is just the scariest thing.”
Everman says it’s been the most difficult time of her life, but she is getting through it.
“There are days where I don’t even know how I can get out of the bed. You can cry every day in here knowing that you can’t take him home,” said Tamara. “You just have to band together and get to know other families too because they’re going through the same thing as you. They can give you hope, peace, and support.”
Everman’s baby boy has been in the NICU for more than two months. As babies born earlier and earlier are surviving. Bauserman says the number of days in the NICU is going up.
“Some of our families are here for a really short time,” said Bauserman. “A couple hours or a day and there’s some families who are here for much longer, months or even a year. We actually had patients who celebrated their first birthday in our NICU.”
North Carolina’s preterm birth rate is worse than the national average, at 10.2 percent. Doctors at UNC Children’s hope their research now underway will give them answers that will help prevent preterm births in the future.