As an expectant parent, your little one’s arrival is a joyous occasion. However, sometimes babies can be born prematurely, before the expected due date. Premature birth can pose several health concerns and challenges for your infant. This blog post is a quick guide to premature birth, exploring its symptoms, risk factors, potential complications, and required special care.
What is a premature birth?
A premature birth (also known as preterm birth) is when your baby is born too early, usually before the 37th week of pregnancy.
Typically, a pregnancy lasts around 40 weeks, during which your baby grows inside your uterus (womb). However, a premature baby might not have had enough time to develop before birth. Therefore, they often have health complications and developmental challenges, especially when born too early. These problems can vary, but the sooner the baby is born, the risks of experiencing health challenges increase.
There are four types of premature birth, including:
- Late preterm (having a baby between 34 and 36 completed weeks of pregnancy)
- Moderately preterm (delivering a baby between 32 and 34 weeks of pregnancy)
- Very preterm (when a baby is born between 28 and 32 weeks of pregnancy)
- Extremely preterm (when a baby is born before 28 weeks of pregnancy)
Typically, most premature births occur during the late preterm phase.
What are the signs and symptoms of premature birth?
Premature babies can experience a range of symptoms, from mild to severe, depending on the weeks at which they are delivered. Some signs and symptoms of premature birth include:
- Small size with a disproportionate head
- Sharp and less rounded features compared to a full-term baby’s features due to lack of fat-storing cells.
- Most of the body is covered in fine hair.
- Low body temperature, particularly in the delivery room immediately following birth
- Breathing difficulties
- Feeding issues
Why my baby was born early?
Mostly, the exact cause of premature baby being born isn’t clear. However, certain factors may increase your chances of delivering a premature baby.
Some risk factors associated with the mother’s health problems during pregnancy include:
- Issues with the cervix, uterus, or placenta
- Infections in the lower genital tract or amniotic fluid
- Persistent health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and heart or kidney problems
- Body trauma or injuries
Your baby may be born early if:
- Your womb is not typically shaped.
- You became pregnant before the age of 17 or after 35.
- You are carrying twins, triplets, or other multiples during your pregnancy.
- The period between your two pregnancies is less than six months.
- You suffered more than one miscarriage or abortion
- You had a premature baby in the previous pregnancy
- You are underweight or didn’t gain enough weight during pregnancy.
- You smoked, drank alcohol, or used drugs during pregnancy.
- You suffer from severe stress or depression.
What health complications can occur?
Premature babies often experience several health complications due to their underdeveloped organs and systems. Some of the potential complications of premature birth include the following:
- Anemia (when the body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells)
- Apnea (a condition where a baby’s breathing stops for at least 15 to 20 seconds, the heart rate may drop, and the skin may turn pale or blue)
- Necrotizing enterocolitis (a severe intestinal disease)
- Neonatal jaundice (when a baby’s skin and eyes turn yellow due to accumulation of bilirubin in the blood)
- Breathing problems like bronchopulmonary dysplasia and respiratory distress syndrome
- Patent ductus arteriosus (a severe heart condition)
- Retinopathy of prematurity (a disease when the eye’s retina doesn’t fully develop)
- Sepsis infections may occur due to a weakened immune system
In some cases, your baby can develop long-term health complications, such as cerebral palsy, vision and hearing ailments, and learning disabilities.
Does my baby need special care?
If your baby is born prematurely, they will probably need to spend some time in a special nursery section called a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). NICU is a specialized healthcare facility with a team of medical experts who collaborate to offer monitoring, treatments, and support to your infant round-the-clock. Furthermore, the baby will require regular breastfeeding, as breast milk gives essential nutrients and antibodies to promote immunity and growth.
It’s essential to consult your doctor regarding your baby’s care plan and any concerns you may have. Feel free to ask questions and seek clarification to understand what is required for your baby’s well-being. Your doctor is there to support you and offer you the necessary guidance throughout this phase.