If you are the Caucasian mother of a boy who was premature, you have likely heard this term before. This is also sometimes called “wimpy white boy syndrome” or just “white boy syndrome” so named because white males tend to do the worst when born prematurely. When you are going through the NICU experience, it is difficult to hear that your child may be the weakest simply because of his race. The NICU experience in and of itself is traumatic and hearing that phrase certainly doesn’t help.
But it’s important to remember (if at all possible in the midst of this situation) that even if the nurse or doctor seems callous to you, this is not a racial issue but rather a statistical likelihood. Here’s what you need to know:
The Difference Race Makes
When it comes to how babies do in the NICU, race, as well as gender, make a big difference. Of all premature babies, black girls tend to do the best. There has been some speculation among sociologists that perhaps black babies have a slightly shorter gestational period. There have also been a few widely reported studies suggesting such, however, the gestational period is considered 40 weeks as far as your obstetrician is concerned regardless of your race!
With that said, white boys for some reason do not do as well when they are born prematurely. They simply take longer to develop. If you are told by someone in the hospital that your child has wimpy white boy syndrome, you need to remember that this is not meant as a racial statement against you or your family. It is simply a matter of statistics. White males do not tend to do nearly as well in the NICU compared to girls and boys of other races. While there have been several studies proving this to be statistically true, there are not any good studies (at least not that I’m aware of) that suggest why this is the case.
Weak White Male is NOT a Diagnosis
I was amazed as I looked for information on this subject how many moms would say that their child suffered from wimpy white boy syndrome. This is not a diagnosis in the same way that something like jaundice would be a diagnosis. This is a tendency for white males to develop more slowly and have longer stays in the NICU. This means that their lungs are slower to develop and like all premature babies, they could possibly suffer life long effects from being born prematurely.
If you are in the NICU and you’re told your boy has to stay because of wimpy white boy syndrome press for further details. Generally, it means that his lungs are simply not developed enough. However, it is important for you to get that information so you can know how best to help your baby.
You Can Help Your Preemie
Despite the statistics, you can help your baby by bringing him as much breast milk as possible, and by doing kangaroo care as much as possible. Both of these practices have been shown to dramatically reduce NICU time and have also been correlated to better outcomes.
Surviving the NICU is never easy. It is heart wrenching to see your baby hooked to wires and tubes and hear scary words like ‘viability’, and ‘physiological immaturity‘. The more you know however, the better you’ll be able to make informed decisions and feel confident in what’s going on.