Prematurity Awareness Month: Taking Care of Tiny Heroes

prematurity awareness charities
Image adapted via Flickr/ ceejayoz

One of the most memorable days in the lives of new parents is the one when they bring their precious baby home from the hospital. While delivery day heralds a joyful homecoming for many new mothers and fathers, for others the day is bittersweet. When a baby is born prematurely, worry may quickly overshadow wonder as an infant is whisked into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for what might become weeks or months of care before going home. Moms who have just given birth and are just beginning their physical recuperation process are frantic about their little ones and new dads are deeply concerned about the health of both their new babies and their wives. Also, the NICU is a very different experience for babies and parents than the hospital nursery. Technology and NICU care and procedures are life saving, but all the interventions can also be frightening for parents at they look at their tiny babies and worry. Parents soon acclimate but in the beginning it can be overwhelming. Fortunately, the blessing of having top notch individualized care and compassionate nurses and specialists gives parents hope during the journey and there are some amazing nonprofits that provide support along the way.

According to the March of Dimes, one in every nine babies in the United States is born prematurely and 15 million babies are born prematurely worldwide. A baby is considered premature when born before 37 weeks of age. Preterm birth is one of the leading causes of infant deaths worldwide, and premature babies are at risk for many health complications including jaundice, breathing difficulties, gastrointestinal issues, developmental delays, impaired vision, and cerebral palsy. Caring for a premature baby with complex medical needs can place new parents under increased emotional and financial stress. Fortunately, with advancements in modern medicine and the skill of pediatric specialists, most premature babies in developed countries have bright futures. World health organizations are striving to improve the health of premature babies in developing countries, who face much more dire prognoses given the lack of comparable resources and care.

In honor of Prematurity Awareness Month, EverydayFamily would like to spotlight organizations improving the chances of babies being born full term, helping premature babies receive the care and resources they need to thrive, and providing support to parents of preemies. We applaud the fine work of these organizations to nurture tiny heroes.

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Hand to Hold

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“Fragile Babies. Strong Support.”

Mission Statement:

“To provide comprehensive navigation resources and support programs to parents of preemies, babies born with special health care needs and those who have experienced a loss due to these or other complications.”

Services Provided:

“Our vision is to enable a network of families to offer support, comfort, and understanding to one another, and to provide them with knowledge, information and resources to reduce the impact of prematurity and ensure the best outcome for their children and family by”:

  • “Empowering parents to advocate for their children.”
  • “Encouraging individual, couple and family counseling when needed.”
  • “Providing resources and information for managing insurance and financial issues.”
  • “Educating parents about the challenges their babies might face and preparing them to meet those needs.”
  • “Sharing support and resources necessary to help all children thrive and enjoy a full and satisfying life.”

How You Can Help:

There are many ways to support Hand to Hold. If you would like to donate an item on their “wish list” or make a monetary contribution, you can access their website at http://handtohold.org/donate/. To volunteer your time (mentor a parent, visit families in the NICU, help educate parents and medical providers), you can seek out opportunities at http://handtohold.org/volunteer/ 

{ MORE: The Inside Scoop: I’ll Do What After Delivery?! }

newborn baby in incubator
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Graham's Foundation

“Created by parents of preemies to support parents of preemies.”

Mission Statement: “We created Graham's Foundation to offer resources, programs, and connections so parents are supported, empowered and hopeful throughout their journey. We are committed to a world where no parent goes through the journey of prematurity alone.”

Services Provided:

  • Care Packages: “Our care packages are designed to meet the needs of parents of preemies at various stages of the prematurity journey, from the early days in the NICU to the transition home. We also recognize that mothers and fathers who have said goodbye to their babies whether in or out of the hospital need support, too. We offer three varieties of care packages- one for parents in the NICU, one for families transitioning from hospital to home, and one for mothers and fathers who have suffered a loss.”
  • Peer to Peer Mentors: “Our Peer to Peer Mentor Program focuses on providing resources and peer support to parents during and after their child's NICU stay. Each of our volunteers has experienced the preemie journey and is available to chat by email or phone. Parents can select a particular resource area and read our volunteer biographies and blog posts. (Mentors have expertise in the following resource areas: lung issues/breathing support, feeding difficulties, life after the NICU, NEC in Preemies, Intraventricular Hemorrhage in Preemies, Breastfeeding/Pumping Support, Parent Advocacy, Preemie Loss, Parent Wellness, Multiple Preemie Journey, Dads of Preemies, Retinopathy of Prematurity.”

How You Can Help:

Support Graham's Foundation by making a donation online. Graham's Foundation is currently seeking donations for a special endeavor “to make the holidays brighter for thousands of preemie parents this year.” Their goal is to send 5,000 “I'm a Little Miracle Care Packages” to NICU families across the U.S. “so parents of preemies everywhere know they are not alone this holiday season”. You can support the ‘I'm a Little Miracle Campaign' at http://grahamsfoundation.org/little_miracle.html

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NICU Helping Hands

“Family Support for Fragile Beginnings.”

Mission Statement:

“NICU Helping Hands through Project NICU, strives to be a reliable source of information, support, and comfort to all families. NICU Helping Hands ‘Project NICU' is an extensive family support program that can be utilized by staff at your hospital or organization. Our materials address the emotional and educational needs of all families who have experienced a delivery that resulted in a NICU admission- whether premature or full term. Project NICU materials make it possible for your staff to meet with a family privately to discuss a specific topic or lead a support group session with multiple families.”

Services Provided:

“Project NICU provides customized family support components which include”:

  • “Parent Support: Addresses emotional needs of all families with babies in the NICU through peer support groups and one-on-one support.”
  • “Parent Education: Assists parents in becoming informed participants in their child's care while in the NICU through education and resource materials.”
  • “Sibling Support: Provides brothers and sisters of NICU babies educational opportunities and emotional support through age appropriate activities.”
  • “From Hospital to Home: Helps NICU families prepare for their baby's homecoming by organizing information discussions related to discharge.”
  • “Memory Archiving: Assists NICU families in documenting their experience by providing opportunities for photography, scrapbooking, and online archiving.”
  • “Bereavement: Supports NICU families who experience the loss of their newborn by providing angel gowns, arranging photography services, and assisting with other arrangements.”
  • “Antepartum Support: Supports women who are hospitalized due to a high-risk pregnancy by providing movies, books, magazines and art activities at the bedside.”
  • “Transport Support: Supports NICU families who experience the transfer of their newborn to a different hospital.”

How You Can Help:

There are many ways to support the work of NICU Helping Hands and Project NICU including volunteering, mentoring, donating items on the wish list, and contributing monetary donations. To get involved go to http://www.nicuhelpinghands.org/lend-a-helping-hand/ If you would like to assist with the Angel Gown program which provides a lovely gown for final photos and burial services to families who have suffered the tragic death of their baby, you can get involved here http://www.nicuhelpinghands.org/angel-gowns/ 

{ MORE: Grab the Tissues and Watch This 10-Year-Old Help Deliver Her Baby Sister }

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March of Dimes

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“Working together for stronger, healthier babies.”

Mission Statement: “We help moms have full-term pregnancies and healthy babies. If something goes wrong, we offer information and comfort to families. We research the problems that threaten our babies and work on preventing them.”

Services Provided:

  • Research: “Since the cause of 70 percent of all birth defects and 40 percent of all premature births is unknown, researchers still have a way to go before every baby is born healthy. Our grantees are working toward new discoveries for the prevention and treatment of infant health problems.”
  • Education: “We work hard to provide information in a simple and easy to understand way and not overloaded with medical jargon. We're also creating more and more of our materials to be bilingual.
  • Support families in the NICU: “The program addresses the needs of parents, siblings, grandparents, and extended family. We are there during a baby's stay in the hospital, during the transition home, and we are there for families if their baby never makes it home.”
  • Support military families: “Helps moms and their partners have safer, healthier pregnancies. Funds special baby showers for expectant moms. Offers ways for dads to get involved and provides comfort to families with a baby in newborn intensive care.”

How you Can Help:

Support the work of the March of Dimes by donating online. Their website provides a way to designate your donation to support research, education, NICU families, or military families. https://www.marchofdimes.org/giving/support-general.aspx

holding preemie hand
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EverydayFamily salutes the fine work and legacy of service of March of Dimes, NICU Helping Hands, Graham's Foundation, and Hand to Hold. We applaud their commitment and dedication to helping premature babies thrive and supporting parents in what can often be a very difficult journey. We hope our readers will keep these organizations in mind around the holidays when giving, and remember to refer any friends and family members with preemies who need help and can benefit from their services. There is no greater treasure than the precious little lives that these organizations nurture. 

{ MORE: Study Shows Midwives Bring Many Benefits to Safer Birth Outcomes }

Share your Success Story!

Calling all EverydayFamily readers! Do you have a son, daughter, niece, nephew, or grandchild who was born prematurely in your family? Post a comment about your little superhero's life today and uplift the family of a preemie about the bright future in store for their precious child too!

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Prematurity Awareness Month: Taking Care of Tiny Heroes

Kristen Zajac is a children’s author. Her published books include "The Veterans' Clubhouse," “Ebeneezer’s Cousin” (English and Spanish editions), and “Chasing the Spirit of Service”, winner of the 2011 Global eBook Award in multicultural fiction. Upcoming releases from Guardian Angel Publishing include "Grandma's Telescope" and "Taking Flight: Isabella's Aviary." Before becoming an author, Kristen worked at U.S. Central Command on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida writing thre ... More

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1 comment

  1. Nikki says:

    My best friend, Andrea, was born two months early. She has slightly shorter legs, but a personality that won’t quit. She’s always enjoyed being the “travel-size” companion of my life. My husband’s twin boys (from his previous marriage) were also several weeks premature. They fought hard in the NICU and today continue to fight hard on the various video games or live action games they get involved with. Two fiery red heads with giggles that won’t quit, but there’s no better sound. My friend from high school’s son was born 2-2.5 months early (I apologize I can’t recall when he was due), but his lungs were underdeveloped and she stayed by his side for weeks until he was finally released from the NICU. Today he loves cowboy hats and Elmo, he doesn’t like green beans and he’s destined to be a little heartbreaker the way he tips his hat and holds open the doors. My co-worker, Emily, had a son, Jackson, who was born at 7 months gestation. He was so small, so impossibly small, but strong. He had a hard time adjusting to life outside of the womb and would cry often for the first few weeks after he got home from NICU. My co-worker believes that each and every staff member in the NICU is an angel on Earth, who can argue. Today Jackson is the largest kid in his preschool class. He likes to play dollhouse and dress-up and often encourages the whole class to join in and more often then not the boys head straight for the play kitchen. I guess, when you think about it, the world is FULL of people who were born early. They’re not small and fragile, at least not for long. They are fighters, they are warriors of heart who remind us to appreciate each and every moment we’re given.

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