Seven of the preterm babies weighed less than 500g Image Credit: Getty

Latifa Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive care Unit (NICU), which is the largest neonatal unit in the northern emirates, received 975 admissions in 2018, of which 585 were preterm babies.

Preterm babies are those born before 37 weeks and they normally weigh less than 2.5kg. Preterm deliveries can occur as early as 22 weeks gestation. Many need complex and multidisciplinary approach and management until discharged safely. They require essential care to be nursed back to health, including protection from infections, ensuring that they are kept warm, ensuring skin-to-skin contact with the mother and that they are receiving sufficient nutrition, especially breast milk.

Dr Mahmoud El Halik, Head of Paediatrics and Neonatology at Latifa Hospital, reveals that of the 585 preterm babies, seven weighed less than 500g. The smallest weighed 400g.

He adds that total bed occupancy reached almost 85 per cent on average and sometimes 100 per cent. Meanwhile, the average length of stay at the hospital was 21.47 days. The NICU has 64 beds dedicated for neonates.

“The unit is equipped with the most advanced neonatal ventilation modes and haemodynamic monitoring that ensures pioneering neonatal services. The unit also stresses the importance of family centred care in which parents are actively involved in the management of the baby through kangaroo care.”

He explains that healthcare professionals at the hospital teach the mother and father kangaroo care — skin-to-skin contact between the baby and their parents — from day one, adding that parents’ loving touch has proven to have many health benefits.

According to the WHO, kangaroo care is one of the most effective ways to meet a premature baby’s needs for warmth, frequent breastfeeding, protection from infection, stimulation, safety and love. It estimates this technique could save 450,000 preterm newborns a year.

“A key benefit of kangaroo care is aiding the lactation process,” says Dr El Halik. “We emphasise the importance of breastfeeding with the mother’s own milk as the main source of feeding for our newborns in NICU. We managed around 85 per cent compliance, which contributed in achieving a very good outcome for newborns admitted to our unit.”