When born before the 37th week of pregnancy, a baby is considered to be premature or preterm. Babies born early may miss out on important developments in the womb and, the earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of serious complications.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 15 million babies are born preterm every year, translating to roughly one in ten of all births in the U.S. Research also shows racial and ethnic disparities in preterm birth rates; According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019, the rate of preterm birth among African-American women (14.4%) was about 50 percent higher than the rate of preterm birth among white or Hispanic women (9.3% and 10% respectively).
Some premature babies, commonly called “preemies,” may require special medical attention including blood transfusion in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Those preemies who need blood should only receive transfusions from donors with O- blood who have not been exposed to Cytomegalovirus (CMV-), a common, flu-like virus, generally harmless to adults but potentially deadly for infants.
Because O- is the universal blood type — meaning it can be safely transfused to people of all blood types — it is essential in supporting preemies, since blood type is unknown in infants.
If you or someone you know has O negative blood, particularly if also CMV-, donating blood is a hugely impactful way to help premature babies. It’s safe to donate whole blood every eight weeks (up to six times per year), or two times per year for donors aged 16-18.
Check out our recent blog article featuring the inspiring story of Knoll, a little preemie who’s life was saved through the generosity of blood donors.