Melanie Walsh never planned on taking a crash course in learning to care for pre-term infants — until her little girl Saoirse was born at 29 weeks, weighing less than 2lb.
Saoirse, who spent five weeks in intensive care, is now a thriving 4-year-old and has two siblings, also born prematurely but doing well — Aoife, 3, and Donnacha, 5 months.
Melanie, of Ballincollig, Co Cork, was treated for pre-eclampsia during each of her pregnancies at Cork University Hospital.
Her second baby, Aoife, was born at 36 weeks and Melanie knew what to expect.
“Aoife was quite a ‘big’ baby — 4lb 11oz,” said Melanie, a member of the Irish Neonatal Health Alliance that organised a conference in Dublin yesterday in advance of World Prematurity Day.
Because of Melanie’s experience Aoife did not have to stay in the hospital’s neo-natal unit.
Donnacha was born at 34 weeks, weighing 4lb 1oz. “I call him my empowerment baby because I was empowered to go on and have one more baby thanks to my education and experience,” she said.
She was able to ignore the monitors and see her baby was fine when he was treated for a time in the hospital’s special care baby unit.
“I was determined to educate myself because I wanted three children and I found a way of doing that. I adapted.
“Am I still scared? Of course I am. Absolutely. Donnacha is only 5 months old and is still being followed up. I am paranoid — I am the parent of a prem.”
Melanie, a biochemist, is a quality manager at a large pharmaceutical company in Cork and is on maternity leave.
She wishes babies like hers had a longer-term follow-up to ensure they reach developmental milestones.
Saoirse was followed up for two years but Melanie wants this extended to school-going age. She also believes mothers of premature babies should get help from a discharge nurse when bringing the infants home.
The conference was opened by Jerry Buttimer, chairman of the joint Oireachtas committee on health and children, who weighed just 2lb when born prematurely in 1967.
It was also addressed by clinical leader of the HSE neonatology programme, Prof John Murphy, who said a new model of care would ensure premature babies all receive standard levels of care regardless of hospital or location.
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