WHAT is prematurity?
A premature baby is the one who is born before the actual period of pregnancy i.e. 40 weeks. A premature infant is born before 37 completed weeks of gestation and is considered premature. This type of birth is known as Preterm Birth and such babies are called Premmies.
- Fewer than 12% of all babies are premature.
- The rate of premature births is rising, mainly due to the large numbers of multiple births in recent years.
- Twins and other multiples are about six times more likely to be premature than single birth babies.
- The no. of premature births is increasing each year.
FACTORS THAT LEAD TO PREMATURE BIRTH
Many factors that lead to either the risk of premature birth or early delivery are however not fully known by the researchers. Health-care providers consider the following factors to put women at high risk for preterm labour or birth:
- Having a previous premature birth
- Pregnancy with twins, triplets or other multiples
- An interval of fewer than six months between pregnancies
- Conceiving through in vitro fertilization
- Problems with the uterus, cervix or placenta
- Smoking cigarettes or using illicit drugs
- Poor nutrition
- Not gaining enough weight during pregnancy
- Some infections, particularly of the amniotic fluid and lower genital tract
- Some chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes
- Being underweight or overweight before pregnancy
- Stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one or domestic violence
- Multiple miscarriages or abortions
- Physical injury or trauma
- Abnormal structure of the uterus
- Placental abruption
- Premature rupture of membranes
CHARACTERISTICS OF PREMATURE BABY
The following are the most common characteristics of a premature baby:
- Small baby, often weighing less than 2500gm
- Thin, shiny, pink or red skin, able to see veins
- Little body fat
- Little scalp hair, but may have lots of lanugo(soft body hair)
- Weak cry and body tone
- Genitals may be small and underdeveloped
- Lack of reflexes for sucking and swallowing, leading to feeding difficulties
WHY IS PRE-MATURITY A CONCERN?
Pre-mature babies are very much vulnerable. Their organs may not work for the life outside the mother’s uterus. Such babies become the actual point of concern when they are not able to function well. They may suffer from many problems such as:
- Temperature instability
- Many Respiratory Problems
- Too low or too high blood pressure
- Difficulty feeding
- Poor digestion
- Intraventricular haemorrhage
Pre-mature babies may suffer from many long-term problems also. Generally, the more premature the baby, the more serious and long-lasting are the health problems.
The general treatment for a premature baby is determined by the doctor according to the baby’s gestational age, the extent of the disease, tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies. The major treatments for a premature baby include:
- Being placed in an incubator
- Monitoring of the baby’s vital signs
- Having a feeding tube
- Replenishing Fluids
- Receiving a blood transfusion
Many medications are also prescribed to the premmies which include:
- A liquid (surfactant), squirted into the lungs to help them mature.
- Fine-mist (aerosolized) or IV medication to strengthen breathing and heart rate.
- Antibiotics if an infection is present or if there’s a risk of possible infection.
- Medicines that increase urine output (diuretics) to help the lungs and, sometimes, the circulation.
- An injection of medication into the eye to stop the growth of new blood vessels that could cause retinopathy of prematurity.
- Medicine that helps close the heart defect known as patent ductus arteriosus.
Also sometimes surgery can be recommended to treat the severe problems that the baby is suffering from.
WHEN CAN PREMATURE BABY GO HOME FROM HOSPITAL?
The premature baby can take enough time to catch up with the treatment and growth. Depending on their condition, premature babies often stay in the hospital until they reach the pregnancy due date.
- Serious illnesses are resolved
- Stable temperature. The baby is able to stay warm in an open crib
- Taking all feedings by breast or bottle
- No recent apnea or low heart rate
- Parents are able to provide care including medications and feedings.
Before discharge, the premature baby needs to examined properly so that the parents can know how frequently do they need to visit the doctor for their baby care and immunizations.
PREVENTION OF PREMATURITY
As the number of premature birth is increasing day-by-day, more and more premature babies are surviving because of the advanced treatment. But prevention for the premature birth is also necessary.
Prenatal care is the key preventive measure for premature birth. This is very important to identify the problems related to the risk of preterm delivery. Some ways that can prevent prematurity and provide the best care to the premmies are :
- Identifying mothers at risk for preterm labour
- Prenatal education such be provided
- Avoiding heavy work can reduce the risk of preterm labour
- Early identification and treatment of preterm labour