A premature, preterm, or preterm baby is a baby who was born prematurely, or about three weeks before their due date. While normal pregnancies last for a period of about 40 weeks, preterm birth occurs after 37 weeks or earlier. We understand that premature birth is one of the most challenging experiences for a family, both physically and emotionally, requiring a lot of courage and stability to get through it. Our hearts go out to everyone who has to go through this difficult time and we wish you all the strength in the world.
This article aims to raise awareness about the problems associated with preterm birth, both for the baby and for the pregnant women. If you want to know more about the reasons behind preterm birth, warning signs and measures to be taken to avoid preterm labor, here is an article for you – Premature Birth: Causes, Warning Signs and Preventive Tips.
Before we get to the bridge, let’s familiarize ourselves with a few terminologies and facts so that we become the right channel to make this world a better place for our babies today, tomorrow and years to come.
(premature birth, premature birth), (premature birth, premature birth) – How similar or different are these terms?
To begin with, premature and premature are literally synonymous i.e. they mean the same thing and you can use them interchangeably.
Labor is a series of continuous, progressive contractions of the uterus that help dilate and thin the cervix to allow the fetus to move through the birth canal. Childbirth is further divided into 4 stages, with the second stage being the birth of the baby. Unlike the cases of normal pregnancies (longer than 37 weeks) where early labor is a preparatory sign for the birth of the baby, preterm labor does not always result in preterm labor. Preterm labor can stop on its own, or with proper and timely treatments.
Once a baby is born, there are a number of factors that play an important role in deciding whether the baby will survive and what its life will be like. Let’s take a look at the most prominent.
Factors that contribute to a preemie baby’s survival
- gestational age
Premature babies are divided into 4 categories based on the age of their viability.
- late premature , Babies born between 34 and 36 weeks.
- Preterm , Babies born between 32 and 34 weeks.
- very premature , Babies born between 28 and 32 weeks.
- extremely premature , Babies born before 28 weeks
This is the most common factor used to predict the survival rate of premature babies. The older the gestational age, the higher the chance of survival, as the baby has more time to develop in the mother’s womb. Babies with higher gestational age also have a very low risk of health problems and developmental complications later in life. Fortunately, advances in medicine mean that even the smallest babies can likely grow bigger and stronger in neonatal intensive care units (NICU).
A baby born very prematurely has about an 80 to 90 percent chance of survival, as shown by studies by the University of UtahThis is made possible by their vital organs such as the heart and lungs, which are developed in such a way that they can support the life of the babies outside the womb. Research indicates that babies born between 30 and 32 weeks, while still considered premature, have at least a 99 percent survival rate. They also have a very low risk of health and developing complications later on. The 34 to 36 week category called the “late preterm” is the most common type almost 100 percent survival rate,
- birth weight
Birth weight is one of the most important predictors of mortality, correctly predicting mortality in 82.9% of preterm births. A low birth weight (LBW) baby, ie a baby weighing less than 5 grams immediately after birth, already needs some special care and preterm birth further complicates the situation. Since a premature baby does not get enough time to fully develop in the mother’s body, being underweight is one of their most common characteristics. Premature LBW babies have a smaller chance of survival and a higher risk of disabilities and health problems.
Premature baby girls have a higher survival rate than male babies due to their biological makeup such as genes and hormones. For example, estrogens strengthen the body’s defenses and help the body maintain itself in the new environment.
Asian and African premature babies have a better survival rate compared to their white counterparts according to this one report from The Washington Times based on a study of the University of Florida,
- History of preterm birth
Singleton preterm births are more likely to be viable than multiples.
The footnote is that medical advances are being made in the care of premature babies, meaning better outcomes and greater peace of mind for parents. While each week in the womb gives us more assurance for a healthy baby, know that your preemie’s chances of survival are increasing every day with medical developments. However, we cannot ignore the fact that babies born prematurely have an increased chance of developing health problems ranging from short-term complications to long-term illnesses. The only way we can prepare is to be taught. Read on to learn about the potential health issues a premature baby may face.
Potential health problems in premature babies
While not all premature babies experience complications, being born prematurely can cause short- and long-term health problems. With that being said, it’s also important to remember that the factors that affect a preemie’s survival also affect their overall health for the first few weeks or years that follow.
I. Short-term health problems (life-threatening)
- Breathing problems due to an immature respiratory system.
- Intraventricular hemorrhage (internal cerebral hemorrhage).
- Hypotension (low blood pressure).
- Hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature).
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
- Immature gastrointestinal system leading to conditions such as intestinal inflammation.
- Blood infection.
- Newborn jaundice.
- Immune system problems that make preemies more susceptible to infections.
- Disorder of movement, muscle tone, or posture caused by infection, insufficient blood flow, or injury to the newborn’s underdeveloped brain.
- Slow cognition leads to learning disabilities.
- Decreased vision and in some cases even partial blindness.
- Increased risk of some degree of hearing impairment or complete hearing loss.
- Dental problems such as delayed tooth eruption, tooth discoloration and misaligned teeth.
- Behavioral or psychological problems such as ADHD.
- Development delays.
Now we can safely say that we are aware of the health issues our preemies may be battling. But what about the mother? Does her body also suffer from the consequences of this premature intervention? How does it adapt to the changes? What about the psychological self? How does she deal with the tornado of emotions that surrounds her? Continue reading this article where we get to all these concerns.
Mothers and premature births
As important as it is to take care of your baby, his health condition can leave you in a helpless situation. On top of all the worries about his physical condition, you may miss the experience of holding, nursing, and bonding with your body as you hoped or planned. We can imagine how heartbreaking this can be, but know that you are not alone. As mentioned earlier, new research brings us closer to our preemies every day, quite literally. For example, this report from 2021 suggested by WHO that immediate care for the kangaroo mother, involving skin-to-skin contact and exclusive breastfeeding, significantly improves the survival of a preterm infant. This means you get the chance to spend time with your baby and play a vital role in helping them get through the effects of an early birth.
However, the emotional trauma of this upsetting experience can lead to several mental illnesses such as PTSD, anxiety, and postpartum depression. In addition, you may be ready to return home before your newborn, which can be hard to accept, but trust the doctors and remember that your baby is in safe hands. You can use your time outside the hospital to get some rest and prepare your home and family for your baby’s arrival home. Once your baby is home, you can spend a lot of time with them. Cuddle or pamper them, they are yours and will be.