Premature baby problems: 14 Short-term and long-term health issues faced by premature babies

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This being November, is Prematurity Awareness Month, and is dedicated to all the little angels who arrived into the world a little too early. If your baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, she’s a premature baby or a preemie. In the Philippines, around 300,000 babies are born premature or at a low birth

This being November, is Prematurity Awareness Month, and is dedicated to all the little angels who arrived into the world a little too early.

If your baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, she’s a premature baby or a preemie.

In the Philippines, around 300,000 babies are born premature or at a low birth weight annually.

As preemies come out of the womb before they can develop fully, some of them will encounter various health problems, both short-term and long-term. And the earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of complications. Birth weight plays an important role, too.

Premature baby problems: Short-term complications

Here are some premature baby problems that might start showing in the initial weeks:

  • Breathing problems

A premature baby may face breathing problems due to immature lung development.

Respiratory distress syndrome is one such condition in which a baby has difficulty breathing due to the lack of elasticity in her lungs.

Preemies may also develop a chronic lung disease known as bronchopulmonary dysplasia, which causes the lungs to grow abnormally or to be inflamed.

Some preemies experience prolonged pauses in their breathing, known as apnea.

Premature infants are also at increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

  • Low immunity

Preemies are more prone to infections because of their underdeveloped immune system. Infection in a premature baby can quickly spread to the bloodstream, causing sepsis, a life-threatening complication.

Premature infants are also especially susceptible to the Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

  • Brain problems

The earlier a baby is born, the greater the risk of bleeding in the brain, known as an intraventricular hemorrhage.

  • Feeding issues

Premature babies, especially those born very early, may lack sucking and/or swallowing reflexes, making it difficult to nurse or take a bottle.

PHOTO: FLICKR

  • Gastro-intestinal problems

Their immature gastrointestinal systems leave preemies susceptible to complications such as necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) happens when tissue in the small or large intestine is injured or begins to die off. This causes the intestine to become inflamed.

The intestine can no longer hold waste, so bacteria and other waste products pass through the intestine and enter the baby’s bloodstream or abdominal cavity. This can make a baby very sick, possibly causing a life-threatening infection.

Studies show that breast milk significantly reduces the chances of a premature baby getting infected with necrotising enterocolitis (NEC). 

  • Temperature control issues

Since they lack the stored body fat of a full-term infant, preemies can lose body heat quickly. They have trouble regulating their body temperature and their body temperature can drop too low, leading to a condition called hypothermia.

Hypothermia can lead to breathing problems and low blood sugar levels.

That's why smaller preemies require additional heat from a warmer or an incubator until they're larger.

  • Blood problems

Preemies are at risk of blood problems such as anaemia and infant jaundice (due to their immature liver).

  • Vision problems

Premature infants may develop retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).

ROP is an eye disorder that primarily affects premature infants weighing about 1250 grams or less, who are born before 31 weeks of gestation.

This disorder—which usually develops in both eyes—is one of the most common causes of visual loss in childhood and can lead to lifelong vision impairment and blindness.

PHOTO: FLICKR

Premature baby problems: Long-term complications

Here are some premature baby problems that may surface later on in life:

  • Developmental issues

A Finnish study has found that young adults who were born prematurely had weaker muscles and reported feeling less physically fit, than those who were born at full-term.

Also, studies have shown that a premature baby was at risk of developing more social and school struggles later on in life. Long-term intellectual and developmental disabilities  have also been reported.

  • Hearing problems

Premature babies are at increased risk of some degree of hearing loss, due to their low birth weight and abnormal inner ear development.

  • Dental problems

Preemies who have been critically ill are at increased risk of developing dental problems, such as delayed tooth eruption, tooth discoloration and improperly aligned teeth.

When the teeth of babies who are born prematurely come in, they may lack protective enamel and be more prone to decay and staining. The more premature the infant, the more likely she is to have this condition, which is known as enamel hypoplasia.

  • Neurological problems

Premature babies have an increased risk of developing neurological disorders later on in life. Some studies showed that babies who were born earlier had poorer test scores in reading and math compared with those born full term.

Many premature babies often grow up dealing with cerebral palsy. This might be caused by infection, inadequate blood flow or injury to a preemie's developing brain either during pregnancy, or while the baby is still young and immature.

  • Behavioral and Psychological Issues

Behavioral problems can be a complication for premature babies, including dealing with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Studies have shown that premature babies are also at a greater risk of developing anxiety and even autism.

  • Chronic health issues

Premature babies are more likely to have chronic health issues than full-term infants. Infections, cardiac risk factors like high blood pressure, asthma and feeding problems are more likely to develop or persist.

(Source: MayoClinic)

Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore

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