May 31, 2019 — The world’s smallest baby to ever survive — born at just 8.6 ounces — is now healthy and at home with her family, after spending 5 months in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) at a hospital in San Diego, CA.
“Baby Saybie” was born almost 17 weeks early, in December 2018, according to a news release from Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns. (Saybie is not her real name, as her family asked to remain anonymous.) Doctors say her mother had to have an emergency C-section 23 weeks into her pregnancy, after severe complications put her life at risk.
Despite being born just 9 inches long, and only weighing as much as a large apple, the hospital says, Saybie hardly faced any of the medical challenges that most babies do when they’re born that early.
“It’s pretty much unheard of. Extremely rare,” says Paul Wozniak, MD, a neonatologist at Sharp Mary Birch. “She avoided most of the usual catastrophic things that can set a baby back, or lead to the baby‘s death. She was really a rarity. Quite a fighter.”
According to CDC data, more than half of all babies born at 23 weeks do not survive. Nearly 4,000 U.S. babies were delivered at 23 weeks from 2007 to 2016.
Severely premature babies, especially those born before 32 weeks (a typical pregnancy is 40 weeks), have higher rates of death and disability. In 2015, about 17% of infant deaths were babies born prematurely, the CDC says. Those that survive often have breathing problems. Some get cerebral palsy, have developmental delays, and can have vision and hearing problems.
Wozniak says Saybie most likely thrived as much as she did because she was born at the right place, and she had a great family who visited all the time, along with good genes and good luck.
One of Saybie’s primary nurses, Michelle Gill, RN, agrees that Saybie’s parents played a huge part in her recovery. “I think it was a combination of everything — especially her parents being there all the time. They’re part of the team. If they weren’t involved, I don’t think she would have thrived the same way.”
Gill says Saybie’s parents had to wait a long time to hold their baby, but they stayed strong. “I was there the night Daddy held her for the first time,” she says. “I kind of pushed him to do it because he was very nervous. I was there to tell him we’d be there the whole time and, if at any point, he’s uncomfortable, we can put her back. I remember the look on his face the moment he held her. He was so happy. And about an hour later, he had one hand under her butt, the other one under the head. I said ‘You’re a natural!’ ”
Saybie is now thriving at home, since leaving the hospital in mid-May. Wozniak says that her parents still keep in touch with the staff and that at last check, she was up to 6 pounds, 2 ounces and doing well.