Parents of preemies have their hands full taking care of their new baby’s needs, but premature babies also have their fair share of work ahead of them. Being born early means they have a lot of growing left to do, after all.
Premature babies face specific health risks, which is why they receive such close medical attention once they’re born. Some of these risks are short-term, but others last for a longer amount of time. Healthcare providers make sure to keep an eye out for these complications when they are caring for premature babies.
There’s no guarantee that a premature baby will or will not experience certain health complications. In the weeks immediately following birth, a premature baby might face any of the following health challenges.
- Difficulty breathing: Premature babies can develop breathing problems like apnea, which is an extended pause in breathing. They can also experience respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), which occurs when a baby’s lungs can’t stay expanded, or bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), which is a chronic lung condition that premature babies usually outgrow as their lungs develop. These conditions require different treatment, but they also tend to go away as babies grow.
- Trouble with their immune systems: Premature babies are at higher risk of infection because their immune systems may not be strong enough yet to fully protect them.
- Blood and blood vessel problems: A baby born too early could have complications like jaundice, a chemical build-up in their blood, or anemia, in which there aren’t enough red blood cells in the body. Premature babies are also at risk of developing heart murmurs, low blood pressure, blood vessel defects, and bleeding in the brain, which can cause a dangerous buildup of fluid in the brain and sometimes require surgery.
- Difficulty regulating body temperature: This usually depends on how early a preemie is, but many preemies have a hard time staying warm and might need to stay in an incubator for some time, until they’re ready to take on temperature regulation on their own.
- Digestion and metabolism complications: Premature babies sometimes develop problems with their blood sugar, since their body may not have enough glycogen stored away and their livers aren’t developed enough to start doing their job yet. If their gastrointestinal systems aren’t developed yet, they can also have problems with the cells that line their bowels.
- Problems with their eyes: It’s not uncommon for preemies to be born with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which is an eye disease that indicates the baby’s retinas aren’t fully developed. This condition usually goes away in time.
- Long term health challenges: Premature babies can also face health challenges that start or last after their stay in the hospital is over. Preemies may experience long-term vision, hearing, digestion, respiratory, and learning problems, among others. According to Mayo Clinic experts, premature babies have higher rates of chronic illness, dental problems, and behavioral issues.
Considering all of the health challenges that preemies face, it makes sense why professional care is so important in their first weeks of life and beyond. While caring for a premature baby certainly isn’t easy, medical advancements have made the world a much safer place for preemies.
“Health Issues of Premature Babies.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, Feb 26, 2016. Web.
“Long-term health effects of premature birth.” March of Dimes. March of Dimes Foundation, Oct 2013. Web.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Premature Birth: Complications.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Nov 27 2014. Web.