A preterm, premature, or premature baby is a baby born too soon, or about three weeks before the due date. While normal pregnancies last about 40 weeks, premature births occur at 37 weeks or earlier. We understand that premature births are one of the most difficult experiences for a family, both physically and emotionally, and that they require a lot of courage and stability to get through. Our thoughts are with all those who have to go through this difficult period and we wish you all the courage in the world.
This article aims to raise awareness about the problems associated with premature births, both for the baby and for pregnant women. If you want to know the reasons for preterm labor, warning signs, and steps to take to prevent preterm labor, here is an article for you– Premature birth: causes, warning signs and prevention tips.
Before we get to the bridge, let’s first familiarize ourselves with some terminologies and facts in order to become the right channel to make this world a better place for our babies of today, tomorrow and years to come.
(Premature Labor, Premature Labor), (Premature Birth, Premature Birth) – How similar or different are these terms?
First of all, preterm and preterm are literally synonyms, i.e. they mean the same thing and you can use them interchangeably.
Labor is a series of continuous, gradual contractions of the uterus that help the cervix expand and thin to allow the fetus to move through the birth canal. The labor is further divided into 4 stages where the second stage is the birth of the baby. However, unlike cases of normal pregnancies (beyond 37 weeks) where early labor is a preparatory sign for the birth of the baby, preterm labor does not always lead to premature delivery. Preterm labor can stop on its own or with the right and timely treatments.
Once a baby is born, there are a number of factors at play that play a large role in deciding whether the baby will survive and what their life will be like. Let’s take a look at the most important ones.
Factors contributing to the survival of a premature baby
- gestational age
Premature babies are divided into 4 categories based on the age of their viability.
- Late before term – Babies born between 34 and 36 weeks.
- Moderately premature – Babies born between 32 and 34 weeks.
- Very premature – Babies born between 28 and 32 weeks.
- Extremely premature – Babies born before 28 weeks
It is the most commonly used factor to predict the survivability of premature babies. The higher the gestational age, the higher the survival rate since the baby has more time to develop in the mother’s womb. Babies at a higher gestational age also have a very low risk of health and developmental complications later in life. Fortunately, advances in medicine mean that even the smallest babies can probably grow bigger and stronger in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).
A baby born very prematurely has about an 80-90% chance of survival, as studies from the University of Utah. This is made possible by their vital organs like the heart and lungs which are developed to such an extent that they can support babies’ lives outside the womb. To research indicates that babies born between 30 and 32 weeks, although still considered premature, have at least a 99% chance of survival. They also have a very low risk of health and development complications later on. The 34 to 36 week category called “late prematurity” is the most common with nearly 100% chance of survival.
- Birth weight
Birth weight is one of the strongest predictors of mortality, correctly predicting mortality in 82.9% of preterm births. A low birth weight (LBW) baby, meaning a baby weighing less than 5 ounces right after birth, already requires special care and premature birth further complicates the situation. Since a premature baby does not have enough time to fully develop in its mother’s body, being underweight is one of its most common characteristics. Low birth weight premature babies have a reduced chance of survival and a higher risk of disabilities and health problems.
Premature girl babies have a higher chance of survival than male babies due to their biological accumulations such as genes and hormones. For example, estrogen strengthens the body’s immune defenses and helps the body maintain itself in the new environment.
- History of premature birth
Single preterm births are more likely to be viable than multiple births.
The footnote is that medical advances are being made in the care of premature babies, which means better outcomes and more peace of mind for parents. While each week in the womb gives us more assurance of a healthy baby, know that your preemie’s chances of survival increase every day with medical developments. However, we cannot avoid the fact that premature babies have an increased risk of developing health problems ranging from short-term complications to long-term illnesses. The only way to prepare ourselves is to be educated. Read ahead to learn about potential health issues that a premature baby may face.
Potential Health Problems in Premature Babies
Although not all premature babies experience complications, being born too early can lead to short- and long-term health problems. That being said, it’s also important to remember that the factors that affect a premature baby’s survival also impact their overall health for the first few weeks or years that follow.
I. Short-term (life-threatening) health issues
- Respiratory problems due to an immature respiratory system.
- Intraventricular hemorrhage (internal cerebral hemorrhage).
- Hypotension (low blood pressure).
- Hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature).
- Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).
- Immature gastrointestinal system leading to conditions such as intestinal inflammation.
- Blood infection.
- Newborn jaundice.
- Immune system problems that make premature babies more susceptible to infections.
II. Long term
- Disturbance in movement, muscle tone, or posture caused by infection, poor blood flow, or injury to the underdeveloped newborn brain.
- Slow cognition leads to learning disabilities.
- Vision problems and even partial blindness in some cases.
- Increased risk of some degree of hearing problems or complete hearing loss.
- Dental problems such as delayed tooth eruption, tooth discoloration and misaligned teeth.
- Behavioral or psychological problems such as ADHD.
- Developmental delays.
Now, it’s safe to say that we are aware of the health issues that our preemies may have to contend with. But what about the mother? Does his body also suffer the consequences of this untimely intervention? How does it adapt to changes? What about the psychological self? How does she cope with the tornado of emotions surrounding her? Keep reading this article where we come to all those apprehensions.
Mothers and premature births
As important as it is to take care of your baby, his state of health can put you in a situation of helplessness. Along with all the worries about her physical condition, you may miss the experience of holding, breastfeeding, and bonding with your body as you would have hoped or intended. We can imagine how heartbreaking this can be, but know that you are not alone. As mentioned above, new research is literally bringing us closer to our preemies every day. For instance, this report 2021 by the WHO suggests that immediate kangaroo mother care, which involves skin-to-skin contact and exclusive breastfeeding, significantly improves a premature baby’s chances of survival. This means that you will have the opportunity to spend time with your baby and play a central role in helping him cope with the consequences of an early birth.
However, the emotional trauma of this unsettling experience can lead to various mental health issues like PTSD, anxiety and postpartum depression. Also, you may be ready to go home before your newborn is, which can be hard to accept, but trust the doctors and remember that your baby is in good hands. You can use your time away from the hospital to rest and prepare your home and family for your baby’s return. Once your baby is home, you can spend a lot of time with him. Cuddle them or pamper them, they are yours and will be.