What is World Prematurity Day?

November 17th is the day to raise awareness about prematurity across the globe

Heidelberg Castle Purple for World Prematurity Day
Dirk Philipp

Every year, on November 17th, the world honors prematurity and the impact it has on families and communities across the globe with World Prematurity Day.

This day serves as an opportunity to raise awareness, which is critical for research into preventing preterm birth.

How big a problem is prematurity?

In the United States alone, roughly 500,000 babies are born prematurely every year. Globally, the numbers are staggering.

In 2010, it is estimated that:

  • Approximately 15 million babies were born prematurely across the globe
  • The country with the largest number of preterm births was India, with 3.5 million preterm births
  • Ranking 2nd, China had 1.1 million preterm births
  • Nigeria ranked 3rd, with 773,000 preterm births
  • The USA ranked 6th globally, with 517,000 preterm births

What causes prematurity?

It's hard to accept, in this day and age, that we don't have a way to prevent preterm birth.  But the truth is that the causes of prematurity are still largely unknown.

As Kayla Aimee pointed in her recent book Anchored,

"We have things like cars that parallel park themselves for you (so handy) and cell phone apps that scan credit cards (also very handy). Surely the technology exists to stop labor, I thought. As it turns out we can crate life, but we cannot hold it here."

The following factors are some of those which are suspected of playing a role in prematurity, although extensive research is still needed:

  • Infection
  • Genetics
  • Environmental factors, such as pollution
  • Maternal nutrition
  • In vitro fertilization
  • Twins, triplets and higher multiples
  • Stress
  • Smoking and drug use

What is being done about prematurity?

There is promising research being conducted all the time, in many different areas of improving the lives of premature babies and their families.

The efforts are generally focused on two main goals: preventing prematurity and improving care for premature babies.

Not only is research being conducted, but efforts are being made throughout the world to implement changes that have already proven to be beneficial. According to Born Too Soon from the World Health Organization, the goals to prevent prematurity and improve care include:

  • Eradicating poverty
  • Achieving Universal Primary Education, particularly for girls
  • Promoting Gender Equality and empowerment of women globally
  • Reducing Child Mortality
  • Improving Maternal Health and Education about Family Planning
  • Prevention of HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
  • Ensuring Environmental Sustainability
  • Creating Global Partnerships

As you can see, the issues are enormous and far-reaching.

Some fun facts about World Prematurity Day:

  • Purple is the official color of Prematuirty Awareness, so supporters often wear purple and choose purple themes on this day to help raise awareness.
  • Major landmarks throughout the world help commemorate the big day by lighting up in purple on November 17th. For example, in the past Niagara Falls, The Empire State Building, The Peace Bridge and even Disney World all lit their landmarks purple to help show their support. The photo above shows Heidelberg Castle in Germany glowing purple for World Prematurity Day 2013.

    What can I do to support World Prematurity Day?

    • Join the twitter party on November 17th using the hashtag #WorldPrematurityDay
    • Turn your social media profile or your website purple
    • Visit facebook.com/worldprematurityday and share your story
    • Join the World Prematurity Day Thunderclap

    Who is helping the cause?

    Several organizations support families with preterm babies, including:



    Aimee, Kayla (2015). Anchored. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.



    Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth. World Health Organization. 2012.

    Blencowe H, Cousens S, Oestergaard M, Chou D, Moller AB, Narwal R, Adler A, Garcia CV, Rohde S, Say L, Lawn JE. National, regional and worldwide estimates of preterm birth. The Lancet, June 2012. 9;379(9832):2162-72. Estimates from 2010.

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