A birth which occurs more than 3 weeks before the expected due date, that is, before the start of the 37th week of pregnancy is termed as premature birth. While not all premature babies experience complications, being born too early may result in short-term and long-term complications.
The Channel 46 collaborated with Dr Santosh Kumar, Consultant – Paediatrician & Neonatologist, Motherhood Hospitals, who discusses the short-term and long-term complications of prematurely born babies, signs of premature labour, and lifestyle tips to prevent it.
5 Short-Term Complications Prematurely Born Babies May Experience
1. Breathing Problems
Premature babies may face trouble breathing due to an immature respiratory system. Thus, they need oxygen through a ventilator or in an incubator until their lungs are fully matured. When the baby’s lungs lack surfactant, a substance allowing the lungs to expand, the infant is prone to developing respiratory distress syndrome due to the inability of the lungs to expand and contract normally.
2. Heart Problems
A premature baby is likely to experience heart issues such as patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) and low blood pressure (hypotension). If these issues are left untreated, they may lead to heart failure as well as other complications.
3. Gastrointestinal Problems
Premature infants are more likely to have immature gastrointestinal systems which result in complications such as necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), where the cells lining the bowel wall are injured. Premature babies who solely drink breast milk have a much lower risk of developing NEC.
4. Metabolism Problems
Premature babies often face metabolism problems and have trouble converting their stored glucose into active usable forms. They are likely to develop hypoglycemia, an abnormally low level of blood sugar because premature infants have smaller stores of stored glucose than full-term babies.
5. Immune System Problems
An underdeveloped immune system is extremely common in premature babies, and this can lead to a higher risk of infection that may spread to the bloodstream affecting the baby.
5 Long-Term Complications A Prematurely Born Baby May Experience
1. Cerebral Palsy
Refers to a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture caused either by an infection, inadequate flow of blood or injury to a newborn’s developing brain.
2. Impaired Learning
Premature babies are more likely to lag on various developmental milestones and might be more likely to possess learning disabilities.
3. Vision Problems
Premature infants may develop premature retinopathy, a disease that occurs due to the swelling of blood vessels. This in turn leads to an overgrowth in the light-sensitive layer of nerves at the retina or the back of the eye. At times, the abnormal retinal vessels may scar the retina and pull it out of position, it may impair vision and cause blindness.
4. Dental Problems
Premature infants are prone to developing dental problems, such as delayed tooth eruption, tooth discolouration and improperly aligned teeth.
5. Chronic Health Issues
Premature babies need extra care because they may face chronic health issues such as infections, asthma, feeding problems along with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
8 Possible Signs Of Premature Labour
If an expectant mother experiences these symptoms, it is advisable for them to notify your doctor or midwife-
- Contractions, cramping, or tightening of your uterus more than 4-5 times in an hour
- Abdominal cramps, with or without diarrhoea
- Constant lower backache
- Pressure in your vagina or pelvic region
- Inner thigh aches
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Fluid or water leaking from your vagina
- Vaginal bleeding regardless of the quantity
7 Ways To Prevent A Premature Delivery
Expectant mothers can reduce the risk of premature delivery by adopting a healthy lifestyle.
- Completely avoid tobacco, smoking, e-cigarettes and any form of drugs.
- Avoid alcohol while trying to conceive or during pregnancy.
- Maintain a balanced diet with food rich in iron and folic acid.
- Improve physical health by exercising or yoga.
- Ensuring that medical conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure are under control.
- Maintain the ideal healthy body weight for yourself and the baby.
- Avoid stress by fostering a healthy relationship with your family.
The chances of survival for a premature infant depend on the baby’s degree of prematurity and birth weight. During pregnancy, it is extremely pivotal for an expectant mother to take care of herself and the unborn baby. Seeking prenatal care, especially if there are any risk factors such as problems in the uterus or cervix or having a history of premature babies in the past, is advised.
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