Snuggled deep within the nest of my incubator, I was kept warm, safe, and away from my new stark NICU world. Wires and tubes draped from my small, vulnerable body, keeping an eye on my every breath, every move. As the ventilator puffed air into my tiny underdeveloped lungs, my toothpick like ribs would shutter and shake with each rise and fall of my chest. My skin was fragile and translucent pink in color. Deep purple veins tracked down my abdomen and around my newly formed belly button in a perfect spider web pattern. Fine, thin hair covered my tiny torso and spread across my forehead to the tips of my ears. My eyes were sealed shut, opening only briefly, a full seven days after my birthday.
Born at just 25 weeks gestation, fifteen weeks too early, I was now dependent on this artificial and mechanical world I came to know as my home. My life hung by a thread, and my future was very uncertain. My existence seemed impossible to some, terrifying to most, and my journey ahead would be very long and difficult.
From the outside, I looked perfectly formed in every way, from my small button nose to my little fingers and tiny toes. But on the inside, I was very immature. My brain, my lungs, my digestive system, and my immune system were all very vulnerable and needed to grow and develop in this new NICU world.
On my birthday, I was given a small dose of a medication that would start to develop my digestive system. This special medication contained anti-inflammatory and anti-infective components that are very similar to the components of amniotic fluid. When the baby drinks amniotic fluid during the last trimester of pregnancy, it helps to mature the gut. Because I was born before 28 weeks gestation, I missed out on this important event. I was given a small dose of a special medication in my early days in the NICU. This medication helped to stimulate the rapid growth of my intestinal tract, maturing my mucosal lining and protecting it, just like amniotic fluid would have had I not been born so early.
My lungs were so underdeveloped that I needed mechanical support just to survive. My tiny air sacs had trouble opening up and trapping oxygen so that it could be efficiently absorbed into my bloodstream and distributed to my vital body organs. I received a substance called surfactant that helped me out in the early days of my NICU stay. I also received small doses of a medication that contained a large number of antibodies called secretory immunoglobulin (IgA). These special antibodies helped to protect the mucous membranes in my throat and lungs, protecting me from harmful viruses and bacteria.
My immune system was very immature when I was born, making it harder for me to fight off germs on my own. In the later part of pregnancy, antibodies cross the placenta from the mother to the baby. Because I was born prematurely, I did not receive this immune system boost of protective antibodies, putting me at a greater risk of developing an infection. During my early NICU days, I was given a special medication that contained high concentrations of infection-fighting white blood cells and germ-fighting proteins called immunoglobulins. These antibodies helped to coat the lining of my immature intestines and helped to prevent the invasion of germs. This medication also contained oligosaccharides, prebiotics, and probiotics all of which helped to colonize my underdeveloped gut with friendly, healthy live cells and antibodies. This special medication helped give me the power to fight off infections, allowing me to continue to grow and thrive.
My brain was also immature and had a lot of growing to do in the foreign NICU environment. The brain goes through a period of rapid development and change in the last few months of pregnancy where it more than doubles in size and weight. Because I was born at just 25 weeks gestation, my brain did not have time to grow and prime, putting me at greater risk for problems. In the NICU, I was given a special medication that helped to improve my metal, motor, and intellectual development. This medication contained linoleic acid, cholesterol, and brain building polyunsaturated fatty acids called DHA and ARA. These smart fats are very important for the production of myelin, which is the insulating layer that coats and protects the nerves. An amino acid called taurine was also present in high concentration in my medication, which helped my premature eyes to grow and develop.
When I was born, I was very tiny with little body fat. I had a lot of growing to do and weight to gain before I could go home with my family. But growth in the NICU can be difficult for babies extremely small and premature like me. My intestinal lining was very immature making it difficult for me to digest fat, which was essential for my growth. Throughout my NICU stay, I was given a special medication that contained high concentrations of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. This medication also contained something called epidermal growth factor (EGF), which helped to stimulate the growth of the cells that lined my intestines, making them more efficient at digesting food. It also contained an enzyme called lipase that helped my intestines break down the fat so that it could be absorbed. My intestines also lacked an enzyme called lactase, but my special medication contained just the right amount of lactase, which helped me to digest carbohydrates and sugars, allowing my body to run more efficiently, to grow, and gain weight.
With the help of my special medication, I grew bigger and stronger every day. My once tiny torso now contained rolls of fat. The fine, thin hair that covered my forehead and wrapped around my ears was now gone and replaced with sprouts of blonde hair on the top of my cute little head. My eyes once sealed shut were now wide open and full of wonder. Snuggled deep within the blankets of my open crib, I began to squirm, kicking my feet and stretching my now strong legs. I pressed my hands against my face, as I searched eagerly for my fingers to suck on. Hungry and healthy, I was ready for another dose of the special medication I came to rely on every three hours. My NICU journey was coming to an end, and I was finally ready to go home with my family.
In the NICU, It was my special medication’s healing powers that helped to save my life. It reduced my risk of developing severe infections, chronic lung disease, retinopathy of prematurity, and developmental and neurocognitive delays, all of which I was very susceptible to as a micro-preemie born fifteen weeks too soon.
It was my special medication, the miracle medication, human breast milk, that helped me to thrive and ultimately survive my long and difficult NICU journey.
“Human milk is more than just a meal. It is the gold standard in neonatal nutrition. It should always be viewed as a life-saving medication for fragile infants and an essential part of premature baby care.”