DESPITE being born on February 28, Madison Rose Parsey is really only a few weeks old. The first child for Jessica and Scott Parsey of Winmalee, Madison was born at Nepean Hospital at just 28 weeks’ gestation and, at 660 grams, was so small she could wear her dad’s wedding ring as a bracelet.
“She was actually the size of a 24-week baby,” Jessica explained.
“I had gestational diabetes, so I had an extra couple of scans. I had the 28-week ultrasound to check her and the doctor realised I didn’t have much embryonic fluid and she was measuring really small. The obstetrician said he was putting me in [hospital] for bed rest and I could have been there for three months, but I ended up having her the next day.”
The situation had been touch-and-go for the young family; the doctor told the couple there was “a good chance we are not going to have a baby out of this”, and neither mum nor dad got to see Madison when she was born at Nepean Hospital.
“Jessica was knocked out and I wasn’t allowed in [for the birth],” Scott said. “They just walked out 30 minutes later with her.
“I just couldn’t believe how small she was. I’ve been around babies and thought she would be smaller than normal, but didn’t know exactly how small.”
Health complications were a big worry for the new parents, particularly the serious inflammatory bowel disease known as necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), which can be fatal in premature babies.
But cutting edge research by Dr Girish Deshpande at Nepean has led the way in introducing probiotic supplementation that has helped babies like Madison avoid such problems.
Staff neonatologist at Nepean’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and University of Sydney researcher, Dr Deshpande said probiotics were known to be effective in halving the risk of NEC, but that the treatment was not commonly used in Australia.
“Nepean Hospital is one of the first hospitals in Australia to offer probiotics as a standard therapy for premature babies,” Dr Deshpande said.
Eight in 100 newborn Australian babies are born more than eight weeks premature, and six to eight per cent of them develop NEC.
Probiotics are friendly bacteria naturally present in the digestive tract that fight against harmful bacteria.
They are found naturally in food such as yoghurt and cheese.
In 2011, Dr Deshpande, Professor Sanjay Patole and a group of researchers from the University of Western Australia published evidence based guidelines for the use of probiotics in pre-term neonates in the prestigious journal, BMC Medicine.
In March this year, the Department of Neonatal Intensive Care at Nepean Hospital conducted a workshop in Sydney to present the developments in the field of probiotics. The workshop was attended by representatives of 19 neonatal units in Australia and New Zealand and Dr Deshpande said the feedback had indicated immense interest in the introduction of probiotics in many neonatal units.
But Dr Deshpande said accessing a safe and suitable probiotic product for premature babies proved to be a big challenge.
“After an exhausting search for almost a year, Nepean Hospital’s clinical pharmacist Jing Xiao sourced a suitable and effective probiotic product from overseas which is now offered to families for the treatment of their premature babies admitted to the NICU,” Dr Deshpande said.
Madison is one of 26 babies that have received probiotics at Nepean Hospital NICU so far this year and all have responded well, a statement from the hospital said.
Scott said he and Jessica weren’t sure how Madison’s growth would have gone if she wasn’t on the probiotics.
“She took to her feeds well and always had good bowel movements. Considering she wasn’t meant to be doing a lot of these things for another 10 plus weeks, it was quite amazing,” he said. “Madison was doing amazingly well and I know the probiotics helped.”
After 11 weeks in hospital (“77 days, but who’s counting?” Scott quipped), Madison is now at home with mum and dad and weighs a healthy 2.5kg. Although still small compared to other babies “younger” than her — she is dwarfed by her cousin Malakye Kennedy, born nine weeks after she was — Madison is the normal size for babies of her actual due date age and “can’t stop eating”, according to Jessica.
Both having three siblings of their own, Jessica and Scott said their families had provided great support. Madison is the second grandchild of Scott’s parents Kay and Allan Parsey and was the third for Jessica’s parents Kim and Paul Albery.
“They did heaps, we could just leave the house and someone would mow the lawn, do the shopping, make meals, whatever,” Scott said. “The nurses and doctors were really great too.”
Ongoing research at Nepean’s NICU includes a stool colonisation study in premature babies receiving the probiotics to help researchers understand how effective they are by measuring the good and harmful bacteria present.