Bringing up a baby is a great but difficult experience, because a parent needs to take many health and safety precautions. If the baby is premature, the difficulty, the precautions and the care to be taken, increases. Parents of a premature baby have only one question to ask, what the different problems are that their babies will encounter. There is a stage of development that all babies go through inside the womb. However a premature baby will not be able to complete the development cycle, facing multiple problems after birth. This will call in for an extra care and effort on the parent’s end. The parents should not only take good care of a premature baby and get him/her medical attention, but should also make an effort to learn about the different diseases that their babies may face. This will help them understand their baby’s problem and get him/her the right treatment.
Health Problems in Preemies
Respiratory distress is the common problem faced by as many as 43% of premature babies born between 30 to 32 weeks or before that time. For lungs to inflate properly, a chemical called surfactant is needed, which a full-term baby or a normal baby can produce, but a premature baby can’t. They may need artificial surfactant, or might need breathing help as they and lungs grow up.
It is caused by a product of red blood cell called bilirubin. Preemies are the most affected by a rapid rise in bilirubin, and are treated more often than full term babies to prevent a risk of high number of bilirubin damaging the brain.
Babies born before 34 weeks of full gestation period develop Apnea, or a period where breathing stops, because their brains and lungs are not developed fully. Apnea may be accompanied by Bradycardia, where the heart slows down. Stimulation or other respiratory help may start the normal breathing process again in babies.
Gastro Esophageal Reflex Disease (GERD) affects half of the premature population. In this disease, the babies throw up whatever they eat due to the stomach contents coming up the esophagus. The infants suffering with GERD have many other symptoms too, such as they spit up, lose weight, or may have respiratory problems like cough or pneumonia.
Preemies born before 30 weeks have fragile blood vessels in their brains. An Intraventricular Hemorrhage may occur if these blood vessels break. This bleeding in the brain may be mild or severe. This bleeding may also have serious consequences, such as developmental delays. A mild bleed do not usually have long-term effects.
ROP or Retinopathy of prematurity is the abnormal growth of blood vessels in the eyes of premature babies. This abnormal vessel growth may lead to retinal detachment and blindness. The disease affects half of the babies born before 26 weeks, but only 1 % of them born before 30 weeks.
Before birth the babies depend on the placenta for oxygen and have a different circulatory system after the birth. They have ductus arteriosis, an opening between the major vessels. This ductus usually closes after birth for food to flow in normally. However in preemies, this opening might not close even after birth. This causes patent ductus arteriosis, which occurs in younger preemies and leads to abnormal circulation. Medication or surgery will be needed to close the ductus.
Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC)
NEC occurs in as many as 13% of babies before 26 weeks, and 3% babies born between 30-32 weeks. NEC affects the intestine of the infants. The lining of the intestine becomes infected and dies in this case. Various symptoms of this problem are a distended belly, lethargy and feeding intolerance. The early it is tracked, the better and safer it is for the preemies. It can be treated by antibiotics. A severe case may also require surgery.
Sepsis is a serious problem in preemies and is caused by bacteria in blood. It may occur earlier by exposure to the bacteria in the womb or birth canal, or later from contaminated equipment or IV lines. The symptoms may include breathing problems, swollen belly and lethargy. If caught early, it can be treated very easily with antibiotics.
Bronchopulmonary dysplasia is a chronic lung condition caused by airway inflammation. It affects babies more, who were on ventilator for a longer time. It may cause difficulty in breathing and low blood oxygen levels. Babies with BPD need extra oxygen, till the time the condition subsides.