Premature Baby

What is a Premature Baby?

A premature birth is considered a birth that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy. A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks.

These last weeks in the womb are crucial for healthy weight gain and the development of various vital organs, including the brain and lungs. Therefore, premature babies may have more medical problems and may need to stay in the hospital longer. There may also be long-term health problems such as learning difficulties or physical difficulties.

In the past, preterm birth was the main cause of infant death in the United States. Today, the quality of care for newborns has increased, as has the survival rate of preterm infants. Nevertheless, premature birth still, to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention It is the leading cause of infant death worldwide. It is also a leading cause of long-term nervous system disorders in children.

Causes of premature birth

The cause of preterm birth often cannot be determined. However, certain factors are known to increase a woman’s risk of going into preterm labor.

A pregnant woman with any of the following conditions is more likely to give birth prematurely:

  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • kidney disease
  • hypertension

Pregnancy-related factors associated with premature birth include:

  • malnutrition before and during pregnancy
  • smoking, using illegal drugs, or drinking too much alcohol during pregnancy
  • certain infections, such as urinary tract and amniotic membrane infections
  • premature birth in a previous pregnancy
  • abnormal uterus
  • a weakened cervix that opens prematurely

Pregnant women also have an increased chance of giving birth prematurely if they are younger than 17 or older than 35.

Possible health problems in premature babies

The earlier the baby is born, the more medical problems there are. A premature baby may show these signs soon after birth:

  • difficulty breathing
  • low weight
  • low body fat
  • inability to maintain a constant body temperature
  • less activity than usual
  • movement and coordination problems
  • difficulties with nutrition
  • abnormal pale or yellow skin

Premature babies can also be born under life-threatening conditions. These may include:

  • cerebral hemorrhage or bleeding in the brain
  • pulmonary haemorrhage or bleeding in the lungs
  • hypoglycemia or low blood sugar
  • neonatal sepsis, bacterial blood infection
  • pneumonia, infection and inflammation of the lungs
  • patent ductus arteriosus, an unsealed hole on the heart’s main blood vessel
  • anemia, a lack of red blood cells for oxygen delivery to the whole body
  • neonatal respiratory distress syndrome, a respiratory disorder caused by underdeveloped lungs

Some of these problems can be resolved with appropriate critical care for the newborn. Others may result in long-term disability or illness.

Doctors perform a variety of tests on premature babies soon after birth. These tests help reduce the risk of complications. Doctors also constantly monitor babies during their hospital stay.

Common tests include:

  • chest X-ray to evaluate heart and lung development
  • blood tests to assess glucose, calcium, and bilirubin levels
  • blood gas analysis to determine blood oxygen levels

Treatment of a premature baby

Doctors often try to prevent preterm labor by giving the mother certain medications that can delay her delivery.

If preterm labor cannot be stopped or a baby needs to be born prematurely, doctors prepare for a high-risk birth. The mother may need to go to a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). This will ensure that the baby receives emergency care after birth.

During the first few days and weeks of a premature baby’s life, hospital care focuses on supporting vital organ development. Newborns can be stored in a temperature-controlled incubator. The monitoring equipment monitors the baby’s heart rate, breathing, and blood oxygen levels. It may be weeks or months before a baby can live without medical support.

Most premature babies cannot eat by mouth because they cannot yet coordinate sucking and swallowing. These babies are fed vital nutrients either intravenously or using a tube inserted through the nose or mouth and into the stomach. Breastfeeding or bottle feeding is usually possible when the baby is strong enough to suck and swallow.

Oxygen can be given to a premature baby if his lungs are not fully developed. Depending on how well the baby is able to breathe on his own, one of the following can be used to deliver oxygen:

  • ventilator, a machine that moves air into and out of the lungs
  • Continuous positive airway pressure, a treatment that uses gentle air pressure to keep the airways open
  • an oxygen cap, which is a device that is worn on a baby’s head to provide oxygen.

Usually, a preterm baby can be released from the hospital when they can:

  • breastfeeding or bottle feeding
  • breathe unassisted
  • maintaining body temperature and body weight

Long-term outlook for premature babies

Premature babies often require special care. That’s why they usually start their lives in the NICU. The NICU provides the baby with an environment that limits stress. It also provides warmth, nutrition and protection needed for proper growth and development.

Due to recent advances in mothers and newborns, survival rates in preterm infants have improved. JAMA A study published by MD found that the survival rate for babies born before 28 weeks, which is considered extremely premature, increased from 70 percent in 1993 to 79 percent in 2012.

Despite this, all premature babies are at risk of long-term complications. Developmental, medical, and behavioral problems may persist into childhood. Some can even cause permanent disability.

Common long-term problems associated with preterm birth, particularly extreme prematurity, include:

  • hearing problems
  • vision loss or blindness
  • learning difficulties
  • physical barriers
  • delayed growth and poor coordination

Parents of premature babies should pay attention to their child’s cognitive and motor development. This includes acquiring certain skills such as smiling, sitting and walking.

It is also important to monitor speech and behavioral development. Some premature babies may need speech therapy or physical therapy in their childhood.

Prevention of premature birth

Getting prompt and appropriate prenatal care significantly reduces the chances of giving birth prematurely. Other important preventive measures include:

Eat a healthy diet before and during pregnancy. Be sure to eat lots of whole grains, lean protein, vegetables and fruits. Taking folic acid and calcium supplements is also highly recommended.

Drinking lots of water every day. The recommended amount is eight glasses a day, but if you exercise you’ll want to drink more.

Taking daily aspirin starting in the first trimester. If you have high blood pressure or a history of preterm birth, your doctor may recommend that you take 60 to 80 milligrams of aspirin each day.

Quitting smoking, using illegal drugs, or overusing prescription drugs. These activities during pregnancy can lead to a higher risk of certain birth defects as well as miscarriage.

If you’re worried about having a premature birth, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can recommend additional preventive measures that can help reduce your risk of preterm birth.

Resources:

General conditions treated in the NICU. (2014, August)

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, 27 November). Early birth

Premature babies. (2013, October)

Early birth. (2015, 4 December)

Preterm birth and preterm birth. (2016, March)

A primer on preemies. (2014, January)

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