A birth that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy is termed premature pregnancy. Normal pregnancy generally lasts about 40 weeks. A premature birth takes place more than three weeks before the estimated due date of the baby. Sometimes, premature babies who are born very early often face complicated medical issues. Usually, complications of prematurity differ. But earlier the baby is born, the higher the risk of complications involved.
Depending on the early birth of the babies, some terms are considered, which are as follows.
- Late preterm- During pregnancy, if the baby is born between 34 and 36 completed weeks, it is termed as late preterm.
- Moderately preterm- During pregnancy, if the baby is born between 32 and 34 weeks, it is moderately preterm.
- Very preterm- During pregnancy, if the baby is born at less than 32 weeks, it is termed very preterm.
- Extremely preterm- During pregnancy, if the baby is born at or before 25 weeks, then it is termed as extremely preterm
All premature babies do not face complications, but being born too early can cause short-term and long-term health problems. Typically, the sooner a baby is born higher is the risk of repercussions; in addition to that, birth weight is also an essential factor. Some difficulties may be apparent at birth, while the other problems can occur later. Complications can occur in the short term.
During the first weeks, the complications of premature birth may include the following:
- Breathing problems– A premature baby may face difficulty in breathing because of an immature respiratory system. Suppose the baby’s lungs lack surfactant- a substance that allows the lungs to expand. The baby may develop respiratory distress syndrome because the lungs cannot expand and contract normally.
- Premature babies may face a lung disorder which is known as bronchopulmonary dysplasia. Besides, some preterm babies may face prolonged pauses in their breathing, known as apnea.
- Heart problems– The most prevalent heart problems premature babies face are patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) and low blood pressure (hypotension). PDA is an opening that is located between the aorta and pulmonary artery. Though this heart defect often closes on its own, left untreated, it can lead to a heart murmur, heart failure as well as other repercussions.
- Brain problems– There is a higher risk of bleeding in the brain, known as an intraventricular haemorrhage if a baby is born earlier. Most of the haemorrhages are mild and resolve with little short-term impact. But some babies may face more considerable brain bleeding that can have a permanent brain injury.
- Temperature control problems- Premature babies may lose body heat rapidly. They do not have the stored body fat of a full-term infant, and even they cannot generate enough heat to balance out that’s lost through the surface of their bodies. If the body temperature is too low, an abnormally low core body temperature may result. It is called hypothermia.
- Hypothermia in a premature baby can lead to breathing issues and low blood sugar levels.
- Gastrointestinal disorder – Premature babies have an immature digestive system, which results in complexities such as necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). Sometimes, it tends to be in a critical state because the cells lining the bowel wall get injured, resulting in premature babies after they start feeding.
- There is a much lower risk of developing NEC in premature infants who only acquire breast milk.
- Blood complications- Premature babies may face some blood issues such as anaemia and newborn jaundice. When the body does not have adequate red blood cells, the problem of anaemia occurs.
- Sometimes there is a yellow discolouration in the newborn baby’s skin and eyes, which is referred to as newborn jaundice. It happens because the baby’s blood contains excess bilirubin, which is a yellow-coloured substance from the liver or red blood cells. Jaundice is a prevalent disease in preterm babies.
- Metabolism issues- Sometimes, premature infants face the difficulty of metabolism. Some premature infants sometimes progress an abnormally low level of blood sugar, which is also known as hypoglycemia. The reason behind this is that premature baby generally have lesser stores of stored glucose as compared to full-term babies.
- Immune system problems- Usually, premature infants have an undeveloped immune system, and it may lead to a greater risk of infection. Through the bloodstream, infection in premature babies can disperse very speedily. It causes sepsis, an infection that spreads to the bloodstream.
Complications that can occur in the long-term
- Cerebral palsy- It is an affliction of movement, muscle tone, or posture that may be because of infection, insufficient blood flow, or damage to a newborn’s developing brain whether early during the pregnancy or if the baby is still young and immature.
- Undermined Learning- Premature babies may face the problem of learning disabilities when they grew older and they acquire school age.
- Eyesight issues- Premature babies can face the problem of retinopathy. It happens when the blood vessels swell and overspread in the light-sensitive layer of nerves at the back of the eye that is the retina. In some instances, the abnormal retinal vessels steadily scar the retina, pulling it out of position. When the retina is moved away from the back of the eye, it is referred to as retinal detachment. If this condition is not detected, it may lead to blindness.
- Hearing issues- Premature babies are at a higher risk of hearing loss. After the birth of the baby, the doctor performs the hearing check.
- Dental issues- Some premature babies are at a risk of facing some dental issues, which are delayed tooth eruption, tooth discolouration, and improperly arrayed teeth.
- Behavioural and psychological issues- Sometimes the premature babies face behavioural or psychological issues as compared to full-term babies. They may also face developmental delays.
- Chronic health problems- Sometimes the premature infants face some chronic health problems. Health issues like infection, asthma and feeding problem can progress and endure.
Impact of premature birth on baby’s health
Premature birth is defined as the birth of a baby before 37 weeks of pregnancy. As compared to the babies born later, pre-born babies face different health issues. Sometimes the premature babies need some special medical attention.
Premature babies may face health issues throughout their lives. In some cases the health hindrances are not identified. Finding and curing the health issues as soon as possible is better for the baby to lead a healthier life.
Impact of premature birth on a baby’s brain
Premature birth may lead to some mental disabilities. It is possible that the brain may not work correctly. It is possible that the baby delays in:
- Physical improvement
- Taking care of himself
- Getting along with others
Some long term issues include the following:
- Cerebral palsy
- Behaviour problems
- Mental health issues, including depression
- Neurological disorders