What is a premature baby?
Normally, babies are born at around 40 weeks of pregnancy. A preterm, premature or ‘preemie’ baby is one who is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Prematurity is the leading cause of all deaths among children under 5 years of age. Globally, India has the highest rate of premature births with more than 3.5 million children born prematurely each year.
Why are babies born prematurely?
Babies can be born prematurely for a variety of reasons. The risk increases if you –
- Have a prior history of preterm birth
- Are carrying more than one baby at a time (twins, triplets etc.)
- Have high blood pressure during your pregnancy (Pre-eclampsia)
- Are suffering from diabetes or gestational diabetes
- Have any kinds of infections during your pregnancy
- Are smoking during your pregnancy
- Are consuming alcohol during your pregnancy
- Are experiencing a lot of dress during your pregnancy
What is the survival rate of a premature baby?
Getting the right care at the right time is crucial to ensure the best outcomes for your baby. Factors influencing the survival rate are –
- The cause for the early birth
- How early your baby is (number of weeks)
- The weight of your baby at birth
Babies can be classified based on their birth weight –
– Low birth weight: Less than 2500 g
– Very low birth weight: Less than 1500 g
– Extremely low birth weight: Less than 1000 g
What are the levels of prematurity?
|Age of your baby||Category|
|32-37 weeks||Late preterm|
|28-32 weeks||Very preterm|
|Lesser than 28 weeks||Extremely preterm|
What complications could my premature baby have?
The earlier the baby is born, the more likely they are to suffer from complications. Your baby may at a higher risk of –
- Respiratory problems: They may have underdeveloped lungs, or suffer from apnea of prematurity, a condition where babies stop breathing for a few seconds during sleep
- Heart problems: They are at increased risk of developing congenital heart defects such as patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). In this condition, the opening between two major vessels, the aorta and pulmonary artery, fails to close, leading to the mixing of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood
- Newborn jaundice: This involves yellowish discolouration of the skin and the eyes, due to the excessive presence of a substance called bilirubin in the blood. This can lead to damage to the brain and spinal cord
- Brain problems: They are more likely to suffer from intraventricular haemorrhages, a condition where there is internal bleeding within the brain
- Eye problems: Problems such as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) can develop. This occurs because of improper development of the retina and can lead to problems with vision and even blindness
- Gastrointestinal problems: Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a life-threatening condition where the lining of the intestine gets injured and dies
- Infections: Due to an immature immune system, they are at an increased risk of developing infections such as pneumonia, sepsis etc.
What problems can premature babies have later on in life?
Babies who are born a couple of weeks earlier than expected don’t usually face any long-term consequences. However, if your baby is born very early (before 30 weeks), it puts them at a higher risk of certain problems such as –
- Delayed milestones: Babies born before term can take lag behind their peers and take a longer time to perform normal milestones such as walking, crawling, sitting etc.
- Disability in learning: They may face problems with learning or have trouble keeping up at school
- Difficulty in speech and language: In some instances, your child can have hearing as well as speech disabilities
- Developmental disorders: They are at an increased risk of developing autism, ADHD etc.
Can I breastfeed my premature baby?
Will my baby require additional nutritional supplements?
Compared to term babies your child will have greater nutritional needs. Doctors may recommend further supplements like –
- Additional vitamins and minerals
- Formula milk specifically created for preterm babies
- Additional nutrients from a tube