According to the definition of WHO 1, a preterm baby is a bay born before completion of the 37th week in pregnancy. Based on the gestational age, there are three sub-categories mainly:
- Extremely preterm (<28 weeks)
- Very preterm (28 to <32 weeks)
- Moderate to late preterm (32 to <37 weeks)
Medically, the definition of viability is set at 23rd week gestation. This is taken as the cutoff point for medical intervention by multiple hospitals to save the life of the child. However, parents-to-be should remember that this is a generalized number and dates may be off by few weeks either direction. If born before the 23rd week, the babies would also require extensive medical intervention including invasive treatments, respiratory support and longer stay at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Medical Conditions That Might Affect A Preterm Baby
The following are some of the health problems that might affect preterm babies:
• Apnea: The preterm babies may pause in breathing for 20 seconds or more.
• Respiratory Distress Syndrome: Common for babies born before 34 weeks of pregnancy are usually born without the protein called surfactant which prevents the air sacs in the lungs from collapsing.
• Intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH): This is when there is bleeding near the ventricles located in the center of the brain.
• Patent Ductus Arteriosis (PDA): The preterm baby might also have complications in their heart, like PDA which occurs between two major blood vessels near the heart.
• Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC): The baby might also have problems in the intestines resulting in a swollen belly and diarrhea.
• Retinopathy: This is an abnormal growth of blood vessels in the eye.
• Jaundice: If the liver is not fully functional or developed, the baby might also contract jaundice.
• Anemia: If the baby lacks enough RBCs, they may suffer from anemia.
• Infections: Premature babies are more prone to infections as their immune system is yet to develop. These infections include pneumonia, sepsis, blood infection, lung infection, meningitis.
• Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BDP): This can develop in the premature babies as well as in babies that are using external breathing machines.
Talk to your healthcare provider for any health conditions that your preterm baby has. The baby might even be healthy enough to go home, or might need to stay few more days in the NICU.
What You Need To Know
As long as the baby remains in the womb, the chances that the baby would survive and would be healthy would also increase. However, gestational age isn’t the only factor for survival, factors like weight, complications in birth like placental abruption, infection, lung development also play a major role. Don’t lose heart yet, for medical sciences have advanced so much that doctors can now save even the tiniest of babies.
Miracle Babies: Hope To Worried Babies
Preterm babies can be a scary experience for any parent. The new mommy and daddy can feel totally helpless as they see their kid struggling to do things that a normal baby would. However, here are some miracle stories to keep your hopes high!
Premature baby smiles 5 days after birth
Little baby Freya was born several weeks early, making her parents worry sick about her. But after five days, Freya did something, that gave hope to her parents and let everyone know that she is here to stay for good. She smiled and that was the most beautiful smile that her parents ever saw.
Baby boy George survives even after weighing 1 pound and being born 12 weeks early
Louise and Paul Rossall’s son, George was born by emergency C-section only in the 27th week into pregnancy due to complications with the placenta. The first few months were tough for both Louise and Paul, as they both could not bear to see what would happen to their son, but with some medical intervention, George managed to battle whatever complications got thrown at his way. Today, he is a healthy little boy.
Giving Birth To A Preterm Baby
If you have received warning from your doctor that your baby is going to come early, you might have some time to prepare yourself for the risks of the birth (which would include birth plan and pain relief options). It’s also important to be aware of possible signs and symptoms to ensure that your baby receives immediate medical attention. Also, understand that sometimes the doctors might decide to delay the birth as it may be safe for you and your baby. Sometimes, the doctors might also suggest a C-section.
Talk to your doctor about the possible complications that might arise and don’t forget to ask for support from friends and family, because it is going to be a taxing situation.