Health & Spirit

Meet Saybie, the world's smallest baby

Paul Sisson, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Health & Fitness

Weighing in at just 8.6 ounces, Saybie is believed to be the smallest baby ever to survive a premature birth.

Sharp HealthCare announced Wednesday, May 29, that the infant girl was delivered by Caesarean section in December at just 23 weeks gestation after her mother suffered from pre-eclampsia, a life-threatening condition that causes very high blood pressure.

Though the infant was not identified by her real name due to her parents' desire for privacy -- Saybie is the name given her by her medical team -- Sharp said that after searching worldwide it could find no lighter baby. The next-lightest recorded birth, according to the "Tiniest Babies Registry" maintained by the University of Iowa, was a minuscule girl born in Germany in 2015. Sharp's recent diminutive diva edged the girl from Deutchland for the ultra featherweight world title by seven grams.

With babies this small, explained Dr. Paul Wozniak, a neonatologist at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women and Children, the first hurdle is simply making sure they get a chance to breathe. Underdeveloped lungs mean they all need help, so placement of an extra-small breathing tube is essential, but such a delicate procedure often fails over and over again before a precise pair of hands is able to coax the device through the airway to the lungs.

Sometimes, intubation on tiny airways simply fails, contributing to a very high mortality rate among those born too early, Wozniak said.

But for Saybie, the tube went in on the first shot.


Given that she was a full 100 grams smaller than the smallest baby he had ever tried to intubate, and it was necessary to cut down the smallest breathing tube that the hospital had in inventory, Wozniak said feeling that instrument slide into place on the first try verged on the religious.

"When it went right in, oh, my God, it was instant relief," Wozniak said.

Having a breathing tube in place so quickly allowed quick delivery of surfactant, a chemical that prevents the tightly-packed air sacs in a premature baby's lungs from sticking together. Use of this chemical is widely credited with significantly reducing the amount of respiratory distress in premature infants, especially in so called "micro-preemies" born before 28 weeks.

As the largest maternity hospital in California, Mary Birch is used to handling plenty of premature babies and many are quite small. But Saybie's size, she was only nine inches long at birth, required adjustments for the hospital's level three neonatal intensive care unit. Special blood pressure cuffs were necessary as were particularly microscopic diapers.


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