This November 17th is the first ever World Prematurity Day. More than 13 million babies are born too early each year. This global problem is one that affects everyone; most people can think of at least one person they know who was a preemie. The March of Dimes, as well as organizations in Europe, Africa and Australia organized today’s event. To help spread the word about this important event here are some facts about premature births.

A premature birth is when a baby is born before 37 weeks. These babies have to spend time in the NICU (newborn intensive care unit) and also require extra care when they go home. Most premature babies come home with medication and medical equipment. This can be overwhelming to a parent. Support from the community, like a home cooked meal, can really make a difference. Luckily, premature babies tend to developmentally “catch up” to their peers within two to three years.

Doctors don’t know all the reasons babies decide to come out to early. Some possibilities include maternal smoking, lack of prenatal care and elective deliveries before 39 weeks. But despite what doctors know 500,000 U.S. babies are still born premature. That’s why raising awareness is so important to help fund research.

How can you help? Wear purple today in honor of World Prematurity Day. Check to see if your local hospital offers a “cuddler” program. Volunteers hold babies in the NICU of the hospital to give them skin-to-skin contact when their parents can’t be there. It’s a great chance to help a little one and feel good too. Join your local chapter of March of Dimes or make a donation. The more awareness and research that is out there, the more babies can get the help they need!