World Prematurity Day, How nutrition and stimulation interventions support child growth and development

Prof. Dr. dr. Rinawati Rohsiswatmo, Sp.A(K)
Prof. Dr. dr. Rinawati Rohsiswatmo, Sp.A(K) (Source: RSPI)

Jakarta, IO – World Prematurity Day is commemorated every year on 17 November. This year, the global theme is “A Parent’s Embrace: A Powerful Therapy”. 

World Health Organization records that 1 out of each 10 children are born prematurely, with 15 million preemies born each year. What makes a premature baby? 

“A premature baby is a child born after fewer than 37 weeks’ gestation. They are high-risk babies – therefore, we need to closely monitor their survival, growth, and development. They have higher risk for severe illnesses, and they face more complex challenges than children who are born after sufficient gestation,” declared Prof. Dr. dr. Rinawati Rohsiswatmo, Sp.A(K), pediatric specialist and perinatology and neonatology consultant, in the “Nutrition Talks” webinar held by Danone Indonesia, Tuesday (15/11/2022). “This is different from low birthweight babies, who are born with a weight lower than 2.5 kg but whose organs are sufficiently matured.” 

A child’s growth and development have four aspects: physical health, learning and cognition, mental health, and quality of life. Prematurely-born children suffer from all kinds of physical health problems, starting from breathing disorders (and subsequent oxygen dependence because of lung problems) to sight and hearing disorders. They also suffer from the risk of stunting, both in terms of overall physical growth and mental development. “This is why we fill out children’s growth and development charts – to record and monitor these two essential things. Concentrate only on the consistency of the child’s own growth and development – never compare them with other children, because each child’s growth and development are unique, and they belong only to the child themselves – like fingerprints,” Prof. Rina said. 

To nurture their cognitive and linguistic abilities, premature babies must be stimulated properly, in order to help them digest information from and communicate with the people around them. This will also affect their pre-scholastic and academic skills. “Parents must never be ignorant or neglectful! A child born in a high-risk condition must be continuously monitored, like any other child. They must even be monitored more closely. Observing and guiding a child does not stop with weaning them at about 2 years of age, and for preemies it does not stop when they are no longer treated or hospitalized. Children who are born prematurely have the same rights as normal children – they must be monitored and guided until they become good, healthy, useful adults,” Prof. Rina said. 

When a child reaches school age, it is equally important to watch over their metabolic health. Preemies tend to suffer from symptoms of early puberty, because of hormonal disorder. This is why they must be monitored more frequently than their normally-born siblings by specialist doctors. Ideally, high-risk children should be handled by a multidisciplinary team of specialist medical workers. This might be difficult for parents with financial constraints, but there are options available through health security schemes nowadays. With regular health monitoring, nutritional intervention can still be optimized. Note, however, that even though premature babies were born with much lower birth weight than normally-gestated children, it does not mean that we are seeking to fatten the child. That is a human child, not a sacrificial goat! So how do we raise a prematurely-born child with a birth weight of 500 grams to achieve an ideal weight?