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15th November 2019

When your bundle of joy arrives early

Six weeks before her baby’s due date, Holly Matthews went into hospital to get a headache checked out, not knowing she was going to become a mum much sooner than expected.

“They did some tests like blood pressure and urine, and the midwife said: ‘You’re going to have your baby in the next few days.’ I was shocked, as I was in for a headache,” the actress, motivational speaker and self-development coach tells This Is MedTech. High blood pressure and protein in Holly’s urine confirmed that she had pre-eclampsia, a condition that pregnant women can develop, usually towards the end of pregnancy. “I’d noticed that I was getting puffy, but I’d just thought that was a normal part of pregnancy. Then when I got the headache, I rang the midwife who told me to come to hospital,” she notes.

The earlier pre-eclampsia is diagnosed, the better the chance of avoiding serious complications including low birth weight, premature birth (i.e., before 37 weeks of pregnancy), and damage to your kidneys and liver, among other things. Doctors and midwives kept Holly in hospital where they could monitor her while giving her unborn baby as much time as possible to keep growing in the womb. “On the fourth day, my blood pressure was high and the other tests weren’t looking good, so they induced labour. Fortunately, I was still able to deliver Brooke naturally,” she says.

Brooke was just 4 pounds and 4 ounces (1.9kg). Though small, she was a healthy baby and only needed a feeding tube to help her grow for the first several days. For two weeks, she stayed in a special unit for babies in need of extra care so that medical staff could watch her closely and help her get a bit bigger. “Because I was a premature baby myself and only 3 pounds when I was born, I never doubted that things would be OK,” says Holly. “My husband and I took it in our stride and looked at the positive side. One huge benefit was that the midwives taught us everything about how to look after a baby! The support was amazing.”

Not only did medical technologies support Holly and Brooke during pregnancy and after; they also helped doctors discover the reason behind the pre-eclampsia. “Blood tests showed that I had anti-phospholipid syndrome, which is also known as Hughes syndrome or sticky blood syndrome,” explains Holly. People with this immune system disorder are at increased risk of blood clots. “Knowing this made it possible for me to have a more normal pregnancy the second time around with my daughter Texas and to plan for an early birth this time.”

Worldwide, one baby in ten is born premature. On World Prematurity Day, Holly’s top tips for parents of premature babies are: “Trust your instincts and don’t listen to other people’s opinions or concerns about how small your baby is. Yes, there can be challenges in the beginning, but it doesn’t always mean there will be developmental or other problems. You don’t have to be scared.”