Premature babies are those born prior to the completion of 37 weeks of pregnancy. With their preterm birth, these babies are yet to become fully developed and thus have a higher likelihood of suffering from disabilities. Such babies need extra medical attention to ward off any health risk. Unfortunately, premature birth complications account for one-third of infant deaths in the United States.
About 45 percent of premature infants suffer from cerebral palsy, 35 percent have vision problems, and 25 percent with cognitive impairment or hearing loss. Complications associated with premature birth are among the leading causes contributing to infant mortality and morbidity in preterm babies. Infants born before 25 weeks of pregnancy have a low survival rate. They face a higher risk of severe impairment if they survive. Statistics point toward the highest mortality rate among infants born 25 weeks prematurely.
Here is a list of important premature birth complications:
Respiratory Distress Syndrome
A preterm baby is likely to have immature lungs. As a result, he may suffer from the respiratory distress syndrome, a breathing disorder. The syndrome occurs due to the lack of surfactant in the lungs of preterm babies. The liquid substance is essential for the proper functioning of the lungs and helps in their expansion.
This preterm birth complication is often treated with artificial surfactants along with a ventilator to support breathing. However, a long-term supportive oxygen treatment may be required in extremely preterm babies.
Preterm babies require constant mechanical oxygen support for weeks or months. This may cause scarring, injury, or abnormal changes in the respiratory system. As a result, there may be alterations in the smaller airways and balloon-like membranes in the lungs responsible for oxygen exchange. This leads to chronic lung disease and the baby when grows up is more likely to suffer from breathing difficulty and lung function issues.
Apnea: Common Problem for Premature Babies
Another premature birth complication, apnea is a common breathing problem in preterm infants. The condition is due to the immature development of their nervous system, including the respiratory center that tells lungs to breathe. However, since this area in a preterm baby is immature, the infant may forget to breathe.
When the breathing pauses, the heart rate may slow down. In babies with severe apnea, skin color may change, and the infant may look blue or pale. The condition may last for a few seconds, and the breathing may resume without help.
However, in some cases, the baby may need a reminder to resume breathing, especially if the pause is for a long period.
A preterm birth complication similar to apnea, Bradycardia indicates a very slow heart rate. Typically, premature babies have a faster heartbeat than full-term infants. For a premature baby, 120-160 beats per minute is normal, while a full-term infant has a heart rate of 80-140.
Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)
Another premature birth complication, ROP is an eye disorder in infants. The retina in some preterm babies with a low birth weight is yet to become fully developed, which causes short-term vision problems.
The condition may be mild without any visual defects or aggressive with the formation of new blood vessels. In such cases, the complication may progress to retinal detachment and cause complete loss of vision.
Jaundice: Common Problem for Premature Babies
One of the most common premature birth complications, jaundice happens in infants whose liver is not fully developed due to preterm birth. As a result, bilirubin accumulates in the infant’s blood as the immature liver cannot process it. Bilirubin is the waste produced from the breakdown of red blood cells. An excess of the yellow-colored bilirubin in the blood results in a yellowish color of the skin.
The most effective treatment for baby jaundice is phototherapy, in which the infant is exposed to a blue spectrum of lights with their eyes covered. Phototherapy helps induce breakdown of bilirubin into a substance that is easily excreted from the body.
Jaundice is not a serious preterm birth complication. But it can become dangerous in some infants whose serum bilirubin concentration exceeds the normal range. Too much of bilirubin concentration in the blood risks causing toxicity, which can damage the brain.
Intraventricular Hemorrhage (IVH): Serious Preterm Birth Complication
Babies born before 32 weeks are at a high risk of IVH. It is a bleeding disorder that often resolves on its own. However, it may get serious in some infants and cause severe damage to the brain, leading to various mental disorders. This includes behavioral problems, mental retardation, or cerebral palsy.
Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA)
It is a common heart problem in preemies. In the mother’s womb, the baby gets a constant oxygen supply through a large artery, known as the ductus arteriosus. Before birth, the fetus gets its oxygen supply through the placenta. The ductus arteriosus helps the blood bypass the lungs. The artery normally closes immediately after the birth, which ensures that blood can travel the lungs to pick up oxygen.
However, in premature babies, the ductus may not close properly, creating complications for the heart. An ultrasound or echocardiography is the most effective way to diagnose PDA. While some infants recover with a drug therapy, some others may require a surgery if the medication is not too effective.
Preemies need special medical care and have additional nutritional requirements because of their immature digestive system.
Ravneet also blogs at www.wellnessguide.com