Many complications loom over the health of premature babies, gentle and fragile that they are. The major reason behind their susceptibility to complications is their underdeveloped organs, which are not efficient enough to carry out their designated activities. This can eventually result in life-threatening medical problems for them. In fact, as per a UNICEF study and IndiaSpend analysis, Prematurity and Low Birth Weight are the leading cause of newborn deaths in India. While the short-term complications may disappear as the child begins to grow and his organs develop, the long-term complications can persist for a longer period of time. These are much more severe and may lead to the child being under observation of expert care for many years of his life.
The following complications have been noted in many preemie babies, and are hence red flags for you if your child was born pre-term. This doesn't mean your child will develop or already has these problems. In fact, with advanced medical care in the NICU and later, many of these complications have become increasingly rare. However, it is best to be well aware of them and be on your guard so you can keep your baby from harm.
Short-Term Complications in Preemies
They may develop a breathing-related disorder:
An under-developed respiratory system may cause the premature baby to have problems in breathing. This often does not allow the oxygen to reach other body parts properly, causing the organs to malfunction. Premature babies born within 23 to 32 weeks may also develop a chronic lung disorder called Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia. Additionally, preemies may also experience prolonged pauses while breathing, commonly known as apnea.
They face the risk of injury in their bowel wall:
Due to the immaturity of the gastrointestinal ducts, premature babies are more prone to develop bowel problems, especially a condition called Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC). In this condition, the cells that line bowel wall get severely injured, and sometimes undergo necrosis (tissue death). The occurrence of signs of NEC is normally inversely proportional to the gestational age of the baby, i.e. the earlier the baby is born, the higher are the chances that he will develop NEC. The symptoms of NEC, like intestinal perforation, peritonitis and systemic hypotension, could be life-threatening and require intensive medical support.
They can develop metabolism and blood sugar problems:
Preemies tend to have problems with their metabolism. They are at a risk of developing low levels of blood sugar. The major cause is that premature babies have smaller storage capacity of glucose than full-term babies, and also have livers that are not able to metabolize glucose efficiently.
Their heart could be prone to trouble with pumping blood:
One of the most common heart problem faced by preemies is that of pumping the blood rapidly, due to high blood pressure (hypertension). Another one is Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA), in which the preemie’s ductus arteriosus, the blood vessel connecting the pulmonary artery to the proximal descending aorta, fails to close. This results in irregular transmission of blood between the two main arteries close to the heart. Normally, this blood vessel closes on its own, however if PDA gets diagnosed and is left untreated it can lead to excessive flow of blood through the heart, leading to congestive heart failure and other severe complications.
Find Out: Are You Likely To Have a Premature Baby?
They bear the risk of bleeding in the brain:
When it comes to brain related problems, the earlier the baby is born, the higher he is at risk of bleeding in the brain. This is known as intraventricular hemorrhage. Many babies might just have mild hemorrhages that can be easily treated, but for ones who have larger amount of bleeding in the brain, there can be long-term impacts. It can also result in fluid accumulation known as hydrocephalus.
Preemies can find it hard to keep sufficiently warm:
Preemies are more vulnerable to hypothermia, in comparison to full-term infants. This is mainly because they do not have stored fat in their body and thus lose body heat rapidly. Hypothermia can result in high blood sugar levels and also breathing difficulties. Also, there is a possibility that the premature baby may exhaust all the energy obtained from feedings just to keep warm and not utilise it on development. Skin-to-skin contact or kangaroo care is an excellent way to counter this problem, so make sure you do a lot of it when your baby goes home.
They have a higher risk of blood problems like jaundice and anaemia:
Jaundice and anaemia are common blood problems in preemies. Anaemia is a condition when the baby’s body does not produce enough red blood cells. Normally, all infants experience a drop in the red blood cell count, however, preemies have a higher rate of decrease. Another condition is jaundice where the eyes and skin of a premature baby develop a yellow discoloration. This happens due to the excess of yellow-coloured pigment bilirubin, in the baby’s blood.
Long-Term Complications in Preemies
They could be at risk for cerebral palsy:
This condition involves a set or group of movement problems that do not worsen with time. Cerebral palsy is neither infectious nor contagious. It occurs mainly as a result of the premature baby’s under-developed brain. Major reasons behind this disorder include poor circulation of blood to the brain, insufficient oxygen supply (hypoxia) or undernourishment.
Their cognitive skills could be slower to develop:
Preemies are sometimes a few steps behind when it comes to development and usage of basic cognitive skills in comparison to their full-term counterparts. They are also at a higher risk of developing learning disabilities. This in no way means that preemies will be slower or less intelligent than other babies. In most cases, they may just require additional guidance to be able to trudge along on their own. ||
Pre-term babies sometimes develop vision complications:
Premature babies who are delivered before 30 weeks often tend to have retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) or Terry syndrome. It occurs in preemies who are kept under intensive care with continuous supply of oxygen. In ROP, the retinal blood vessels develop in a disorganized way, and hence, cause scarring or detachment of the retinal blood vessels. These abnormal vessels can at times lead to dislocation of retina.
This Mom's Miracle Invention is Helping NICU Babies Everywhere
Their risk of hearing problems is higher than in other babies:
All preemies undergo a basic hearing check before being taken home. This is mainly because they are at a higher risk of hearing loss. No major correlation between very low birth weight (VLBW) or premature babies has been understood till date. However, a Canadian study puts forth that a small number of such babies are at a risk of developing a progressive or delayed-onset hearing impairment.
Their teeth may be problematic and slower to erupt:
Many preemies who witness frequent illness are more vulnerable to dental problems. These can be anything ranging from delay in tooth eruption, palatal groove, tooth discolouration to improperly aligned teeth with an increased potential risk of needing braces. Parents who had preemies who were sick, very small and had very low birth weight should anticipate the eruption of their baby’s teeth around 2-3 months later than the usual milestone.
They are more vulnerable to chronic health issues:
Preemies may also face some chronic health problems like respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), heart murmurs, and bronchopulmonary dysplasia. They also face problems related to feeding. They are at an increased risk of catching infections and thus require expert care. Find out here how your family and friends can help lower your preemie's risk of health problems.
Preemies may be more susceptible to behavioral and psychological problems:
It has been seen that premature children are more likely to have emotional, behavioral and psychological problems before they start going to school. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common problem that can occur in preemies. If left unattended, these problems can persist into adolescence and teenage and have harmful manifestations on their social life.
What you must do to keep your preemie protected:
The possible complications that preemies may face can be daunting and unnerving. But don't let this make you overly anxious, mom. With necessary precautions to avoid such risks and by seeking expert help without delay, you can stop any kind of danger from looming over the health of your little preemie. After you bring your baby home from the hospital, make sure you keep the house as dust-free and clean as possible. Your infant is prone to developing infections so it's best to wash your hands properly before handling him and to disallow any guests from coming in their proximity. Breastfeeding is an amazing way to give your baby necessary strength and immunity. If you have trouble breastfeeding
, you can try pumping and storing your milk in a sterilised bottle. Also, most importantly, never miss a doctor's appointment and keep your baby under constant expert guidance, at least in the early years of his life.Read: Mom of Preemie Baby Shares Essential Precautions After Bringing Baby Home From the NICU
Premature babies are fragile and thus need extra attention. But they are also fighters! Make sure you give them all the support they need and keep the doctor updated about all the developments. With your love, care and attention, your baby can beat all odds to grow up into a healthy and happy adult!