Recently I read an article about a Mother who had lost her baby born at 22 weeks gestation. The article exposed the hospital who were managing her care because they refused to offer life saving support to the baby who breathed independently for over 40 minutes.
There are hospitals across the country who have the expertise and resources to save the lives of babies as tiny as this, who can and will intervene with parental consent at 22 and 23 weeks.
However finding the right hospital to manage your neonate is something of a postcode code lottery as hospital policies vary according to what the hospital believes is in the interests of the child.
Fortunately,if you go into premature labour after 24 weeks, then what ever hospital you present at has a responsibility to put in place support to save the babies life.
When my waters broke at 24 weeks we presented ourselves at the local hospital. The difficulty was, unbeknown to us they were only a level 1 baby care unit which meant they were not even close to being equipped to deal with a baby of that gestation. We had to remain there for five hours whilst they attempted to find us suitable care and put in place travel arrangements. Had we known this initially we would have gone directly to the nearest level 3 unit. 30 miles away.
Given that the pregnancy was not straight forward, you would think someone might brief us on where to go in the event of pre term labour. But as this didn't happen I can only assume the responsibility lies with the pregnant woman as opposed to the health care provider.
Although delivering a baby this early on is very rare (about one percent) it is none the less important that parents are provided with appropriate information so they know what steps to take should they find themselves in this position.
Aside from knowing which units are equipped to take on an extremely low birth weight babies it is also worth knowing what the individual hospital policies are in relation to offering medical interventions to very small infants.
Even when policies do point towards parental choice,Too many parents are faced with making life changing decisions in the face of a crisis, and more could be done to prepare parents should they be faced with this difficult decision.
Sadly, more often than not, parents become familiar with these sorts of issues after the event, when they are coping with their loss or the impact of a decision that was made in extremely difficult circumstances.
No one likes to consider the possibility that they will deliver a baby this early but it is far better to prepare for something that does not happen than to be ill prepared for something that does.