Everyone is scared of premature baby complications. But let’s first understand the basics. A baby is premature if he or she is born before the 37th week of pregnancy. Depending on what range of time during which the baby has been delivered or has been extracted through a C-section for additional reasons may put the baby in one of the following categories:
- Late preterm (34-36 weeks)
- Moderately preterm (32-34 weeks)
- Very preterm (32nd week or before)
- Extremely preterm (25th week or before)
These final weeks in the womb that a child may miss out on are very important for a baby’s full and healthy growth. This may be one of the reasons why premature babies deal with complications, such as health hazards and weak survival chances far more often than a regular baby.
Premature baby complications may be of various natures depending on the baby itself. Some issues may seem very obvious and understandable while others may go out on a limb to slim the baby’s chances of survival. Similarly, some complications in premature babies are short-term while others may last for a long time, leaving the baby with some sort of challenges to carry for the rest of their lives.
It goes without saying that you must handle premature babies with the utmost care and attention. Short-term complications in a premature baby might sound like its less serious than long-term complications but that wouldn’t be an accurate assumption. Short-term complications can be something as deathly as hemorrhage in the brain or lungs. Let’s go through some of the most common short-term and long-term complications in a premature baby.
Short-term Premature baby complications
The problems that a baby may face are mostly only due to the fact that the baby had an early coming into the world unless it’s a special case where the baby is born with a particular health issue that might be inherited from the parents or developed otherwise. So in a nutshell, short-term complications in a premature baby are simply a shortage of time spent in the womb which results in the baby needing to be looked after critically till it fully grows all its vital organs.
Some of these premature baby complications are
- Breathing troubles
- Low body weight and fat
- Less active than normal
- Fluctuating body temperatures
- Pale completion
- Movement and coordination problems
- Inability to feed
- Weak immunity
Some life-threatening premature baby complications may be as follows
- Brain hemorrhage
- Pulmonary hemorrhage
- Week immunity (may lead to several life-threatening infections for the baby)
- Heart disease (patent ductus arteriosus)
- Hypoglycemia (exceptionally low blood sugar)
- Neonatal sepsis (infection in the blood)
- Pneumonia (inflammation and infection or lungs)
- Neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (underdeveloped lungs)
Long-term Premature baby complications
Long-term complications are issues that a baby might have to deal with their entire lives.
These complications mostly occur in extremely preterm babies
- Chronic health issues (e.g. SIDS, feeding issues & asthma)
- Learning disabilities
- Physical disability
- Blindness or impaired vision
- Slow & delayed coordination and growth
- Hearing problems
- Dental problems
Treating a premature baby with complications
One of the most important decisions that a mother who has a premature baby has to make is to go to a hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), also known as an Intensive Care Nursery Unit (ICNU). This is so because a premature baby with or without complications will require excessive care and examination as soon as he/she comes out of the mother’s womb.
As soon as a premature baby comes into the world he/she will be tested. These tests will include things like
- Chest X-rays (in order to determine the development of the heart and lungs)
- Blood tests (to find out glucose, calcium and bilirubin levels)
- Blood gas analysis (to determine blood and oxygen levels)
- Ultrasound scans (e.g. Echocardiogram: ultrasound of the heart)
- Eye exam
The baby might need other tests depending on each individual case. When dealing with a premature baby the doctors prefer to keep a mindset that they are dealing with a high-risk baby, as it is the case for many babies hence the doctors do a thorough check up on these babies which may involve a number of more tests aside from the ones mentioned above.
After birth, this premature baby who is likely to have complications is admitted to NICU. Here the baby is treated according to his/her conditions. Support for the baby is provided so that it may be able to continue developing into a healthy independent child one day.
A few measures taken include:
- Due to the babies fluctuating body temperatures it is placed in a thermally controlled incubator.
- Baby’s vital organs are supported in their growth and development.
- Premature babies with complications especially are constantly monitored. Their heartbeats, breathing and blood & oxygen levels are under strict check so that even the smallest difference can be noted.
- If a premature baby hasn’t yet developed enough to be able to suck or swallow then they are fed intravenously or by a tube that reaches their stomach.
- In case the baby’s lungs are too underdeveloped for the baby to be able to breathe then the premature baby might be put on a ventilator or they can be provided with continuous airway pressure.
- Fluids are replenished
- The babies are made to spend time under a bilirubin light
- Premature babies with complications are often given blood transfusions in order to make up for the blood drawn from them for tests.
Besides these methods, the doctors might give other treatments to the baby according to their conditions. Especially, the doctors might administer medications to those premature babies with complications to fix their selective issues and, in severe cases, they may also undergo surgery of relevant kind if needed.
When is a premature baby with complications deemed fit to leave the hospital?
Some common signs that a premature baby may be fit to go home now are:
- The baby is free of all and any infections
- When the baby can feed by itself (i.e. suck and swallow the milk)
- When the baby can breathe without support
- Once they are able to maintain normal body temperature and weight
- After they start gaining weight steadily
Causes and Preventive methods
Honestly speaking, there are no clear cut ways you can adopt to avoid a premature baby. This might be due to the fact that there are no clear reasons as to why premature babies are born in the first place. Some statistics suggest that women of color have the most premature babies worldwide, but there is no clear reason to support these statistics. Some reasons that the doctors predict might aggravate your chances of having a premature baby can be the following:
- Poor diet
- Use of intoxicants and drugs during pregnancy
- Infections in the mother such as UTI
- A previous history of premature births
- Previous history of miscarriage or abortion
- Abnormal uterus
- Weak cervix
- If the pregnancy is of twins, triplets or more
- Conceiving through in-vitro fertilization
- If the mother has diabetes, high blood pressure, or any heart & kidney disease.
- Physical injury or trauma
- Stressful life events such as death or a loved one or domestic violence.
As we don’t know why premature births occur, doctors are not able to suggest more than heathy habits during and before pregnancy in hopes of avoiding a premature birth.
These suggestions are as following:
- Eat healthy before and during pregnancy
- Drink ample water daily
- Taking aspirin daily if you have high blood pressure or history of premature births
- Quit intoxicants and drugs
- Quit abusing any medically advised drugs
- Cervical cerclage (after a physician’s advice)
- Progesterone supplements
While you take these precautions make sure you are going to the doctor for check-ups. Discuss all and any concerns you may have with them and ask to get the appropriate tests and examinations done.