A baby born before 37 weeks is considered premature and needs special care immediately after birth. With the help of doctors and specialists, however, the baby can be recovered to benefit from normal development.
Premature babies may need an incubator and IVs to stabilize. Photo: Shutterstock
If the pregnant woman has diabetes or suffers from heart or kidney disease, she is at risk of giving birth prematurely. Children whose mothers have high blood pressure, developed after the 20th week of pregnancy (preeclampsia), are also at risk of being born prematurely; congenital defects of the uterus; a weakened cervix, which begins to dilate too soon; urinary, vaginal or amniotic membrane infections; premature rupture of the membranes (placenta praevia). Other factors that increase the risk of preterm birth are maternal age (younger than 16 or older than 35), race (African-American women), lack of prenatal care, smoking, and use of cocaine or amphetamines. Premature babies born between 35 and 37 weeks may look normal and not need intensive care, but they still have a higher risk of developing health problems than full-term babies. Signs of prematurity include disproportion between too small a body and too big a head, an elongated figure, low body temperature and lack of sucking and swallowing reflexes.
See also: Causes of premature birth
Respiratory and digestive complications
Most premature babies require hospitalization in the neonatal intensive care unit, due to respiratory (apnea, bronchopulmonary dysplasia), digestive (necrotizing enterocolitis) or neurological complications. Babies can also suffer from anemia or retinal problems (retinopathy of prematurity). The main disadvantages that a premature baby faces are “first of all, asphyxia at birth, so it’s a baby that can’t breathe on its own and needs help. Later, all his organs are immature and then respiratory complications can occur, and the lower the gestational age, the more intensively he needs respiratory support. There can be neurological, digestive complications – it is very difficult to tolerate food, it can cause intestinal perforation -, metabolic complications – it does not maintain its blood sugar, temperature. For this reason, premature babies always need machines, incubators, infusions, until they manage to stabilize. Practically, in them, all the organs do not work properly. If they have an added problem, such as an infection or a malformation, then things get even more complicated”, says Dr. Roxana Aldea, head of the neonatology department at the Târgoviște County Emergency Hospital.
Recovery is possible in full
Depending on when the baby is born, the baby’s risks of having long-term health problems are higher if he was born much earlier. These complications include eye, hearing, dental or behavioral conditions, chronic diseases and learning disabilities. In most cases where they have the support of doctors, premature babies fully recover and become perfectly healthy children, and later adults. “The younger the gestational age, the greater the risk of sequelae. There are children who escape well, without any problem, there are also children who remain with deficits and need help throughout their lives. There are follow-up programs. Practically, any child born before term is good to follow in the first 2 years of life, preventively, so that, in case of deficiencies, physical therapy and recovery can begin. The more you take care of a premature baby, the higher the chances that it will be normal at the age of 2, when we draw the line,” says Dr. Aldea.