Dubai: Baby born at 24 weeks, weighing 700 grams survives after 3-month NICU stay

The couple visited their new daughter everyday but it was only 2 months after she was born that they were able to hold her for the first time


Nasreen Abdulla

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Baby Ashreen at hospital. — Photo: Supplied
Baby Ashreen at hospital. — Photo: Supplied

Published: Mon 27 May 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 27 May 2024, 10:15 PM

As she was expecting her fourth child, Dubai resident Saba Ali was hoping for an uneventful pregnancy like her previous three. However, during the 24th week of pregnancy, she developed a very high fever that refused to go away with any kind of medication.

“I knew something was wrong,” she recalled. “On that day, January 25, I readied my three kids — children aged 12, 8 and 6 — for school and told them that I would go to the hospital to see if everything was ok. My husband was travelling, so I went on my own.”

She reached Aster Hospital Sharjah a little after 6am. Within hours, the doctors delivered a shocker to her — she had to give birth immediately. “I was not prepared, and it was an emotional roller coaster,” she said. “But the doctors explained the gravity of the situation to me, and I placed my trust in them.”

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By 7.22pm that night, she delivered baby Arsheen, who weighed just 700gm. The baby was immediately moved to the NICU, where she spent the next three months. A normal pregnancy lasts 40 weeks and the average weight of a full-grown baby can range anywhere between 2 and 4kgs. “Babies born at 24 weeks have a survival rate of 50%,” said Dr Abdul Majeed, specialist paediatrics and neonatology. “It depends on the condition of the baby at the time of delivery.”

Emergency procedure

Once the doctors said she had to deliver as soon as possible, Saba was worried about her other children. She said she was extremely lucky that her mother-in-law was visiting Dubai at the time. “She immediately went to my house to be with my children,” she said. “By evening, a friend of mine and my sister-in-law came after work to be with me at the hospital.”

As per doctors, it was a combination of factors that caused Saba to go into labour early. “She had an infection, bleeding and was severely anaemic,” said Dr Jessica Fernandes, specialist obstetrics & gynaecology at Aster Hospital Sharjah. “With close monitoring, we were able to deliver the baby normally but afterwards, she suffered a postpartum haemorrhage.”

Due to this, Saba needed two pints of blood to improve her levels of haemoglobin. “We were prepared for it and had enough blood on site,” said Dr Jessica. “It is a common complication in preterm deliveries.”

Two days after giving birth, Saba was moved to the ward. The first thing she did was to walk to the NICU. However, as soon as she arrived in front of the unit, she turned and walked away. “I didn’t have the courage to see her,” she said. “It was just too painful for me.”

Baby Ashreen.
Baby Ashreen.

She was soon discharged and went home where she spent the better part of the first month crying. “I was scared for her life,” she said. “It was very difficult for my husband too. He would spend sleepless nights and I would often find him tossing and turning in bed.” She said what kept them going was the support of the doctors. “They gave us updates every single day, telling us what treatment they were doing and how much feed she was taking,” she said.

The hardest thing for them was to explain to their older kids why they could not bring their new sibling home. “My children wanted to bring her home and play with her,” she said. “They couldn’t understand why they couldn’t meet her or even see a photo of her. It was forbidden to take a phone inside the NICU for fear of spreading infection. Even the photographs for her documents had to be taken by the staff with specialised equipment.”

The couple visited their new daughter everyday but it was only two months after she was born that they were able to hold her for the first time. “By the time, she was weighing 1,700gm,” she said. “The first time I held her, I tried to keep my emotions in check. I was doing skin to skin contact with her and I knew that if I got stressed, it would get passed on to her. So, I just held her and tried to enjoy the moment.”


Baby Arsheen was able to come home three months after her birth. “During the initial 3-4 weeks, we had a lot of ups and downs with heart and lung issues for the baby,” said Dr Abdul Majeed. “But by the time she was three months old, she was breathing well on her own and had gained enough weight. We trained the mother very well to get her confident in taking care of the baby on her own.”

According to Saba, she hasn’t been able to sleep at night since the infant came home. “I am scared to take my eyes off her,” she said. “I spend a lot of time just watching her breathe.”

The family have been very careful since her homecoming. “Our other children are still not allowed to touch her because of fear of infection,” she said. “We cannot take her out of the house unless it is for a vaccination or emergency. The happiest person now is my husband. Every evening after coming back from work, he will sanitize himself and then spend a long time playing with her. We know how close we came to losing her and we are grateful to the doctors of Aster for their support.”


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