Common Premature Baby Complications
The normal pregnancy gestation period is 40 weeks. At the end of which, the due date arrives. The due date is calculated as 9 months and 9 days from the first day of your last menstrual period. Most pregnancies continue smoothly till the end. If your pregnancy crosses the 37 week mark, your baby is called full term. But if your baby arrives before the 37th week, it is termed as a pre mature baby or a preemie. There are many reasons of preterm labor. It could be spontaneous or you may have a planned c-section if any risk (to mother or baby) or complication is detected. Premature babies born around 32 to 34 weeks tend to have more complications which could be manifested as mild, moderate or severe. Late preterm babies have fewer problems. The baby needs to be kept in a specialized unit called the neonatal ICU or NICU to be closely monitored and treated. Some of the commonly known premature baby complications that can happen are:
- Immature development of lungs: The lungs of the baby generally develop by the 36th week. If continuing the pregnancy is a risk to the mother and the doctor knows that the baby is coming early, an amniocentesis can be performed to check the maturity status of the lungs. In some cases, steroid injections are given to the mother to speed up the lungs development in the fetus. Immature lung development could be associated with the following premature baby complications:
- Respiratory distress syndrome– Harsh and irregular breathing in the baby due to lack of surfactant- a substance that prevents the cells of the lungs from collapsing and aids in smooth breathing.
- Apnea– Premature babies stop breathing on their own for 15 seconds or so. They have to be monitored for the same and if required, the nurse may have to stimulate the baby by patting him or rubbing the soles of the feet.
- Bronchopulmonary dysplasia– This is complication that occurs when the preemies are put on the ventilator as their immature lungs cannot withstand the constant pressure of the artificial respirator. This complication occurs when the baby has been on the ventilator for about one month. Recovery takes a longer time in preemie NICU babies as compared to term babies.
- Pneumonia– It is an infection of the lungs alveoli where the gaseous exchange takes place. It can result in lower oxygen levels in the baby. It needs to be treated with oxygen supplementation, intubation and antibiotics.
- Anemia: During the pregnancy, the baby begins to store iron in its body in the later weeks, so preterm infants have less iron stores and not enough red blood cells. Anemic preemie baby are weak and have troubles feeding. They need to be treated with iron supplements and drugs to increase the RBC production. Severe cases may even need a blood transfusion.
- Jaundice: It occurs due to an increased build up of bilirubin in the blood. The treatment of neonatal jaundice is done by phototherapy (placing the baby under special lights). It could take 7-10 days for the baby to recover completely.
- Intraventicular Hemorrhage: Babies that are born before 34 weeks (34 week preemies), have more chances of developing a bleed which happens in the first three days inside the brain as their immature blood vessels are unable to tolerate the pressure changes that happen when the head comes out of the narrow vaginal opening during delivery. This can lead to premature baby complications like cerebral palsy, mental retardation and learning disabilities. The chances of a bleed are higher in babies born in the second trimester. If preterm delivery is anticipated, medications can be given in advance to reduce the risk of an internal bleed.
- Immature gastrointestinal tract: Preterm baby have an immature gastrointestinal system and cannot absorb the nutrients completely. They need to be given intravenous feeding. After a few days the baby can be fed breast milk or formula with a tube as they still are too small to suck on their own.
- Patent ductus arteriosus(PDA): During the fetal life, the heart has a ductus arteriosus which allows the blood to flow from the lungs into the aorta. It normally closes before birth. In case the ductus fails to close, it leads to a cardiac disorder which causes breathing difficulties in the baby due to mixing of the blood.
Premature babies are more prone to getting infections than term babies. Other complications that can occur are Necrotizing Enterocolitis and Retinopathy of prematurity.