A premature infant is a child born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, which normally should last for 40 weeks.
According to the center for disease control and prevention, premature birth is a major cause of infant death worldwide.(1) It is also a major cause of nervous system disorder in children.
What Causes Premature Birth?
There are few factors which increase the risk of a woman going into labor early which include:
- Kidney disease
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Poor nutrition before and after pregnancy
- Abnormal uterus
- Smoking or using illegal drugs or drinking too much alcohol during pregnancy
- Weakened cervix
- Previous premature births
There are also increased chances of delivering early in a female who gets pregnant before 17 years of age or after 35 years.
Health Problems In Premature Infants
Earlier a baby arrives, more likely it is to suffer from medical problems. The premature infant shows these signs soon after birth:
- Low weight
- Low body fat
- Difficulty in breathing
- Difficulty in feeding
- Less activity than normal
- A problem in movement and coordination
- Pale and yellow skin
There is also a possibility for a premature infant to suffer from the following life-threatening conditions such as:
- Brain hemorrhage
- Pulmonary hemorrhage
- Neonatal respiratory distress syndrome
- Neonatal sepsis, a blood infection caused by bacteria
The problems can be solved by proper critical care to avoid long-term disability.
Long term problem related to premature birth are:
- Hearing disability
- Learning disability
- Physical disability
- Vision loss
- Delayed growth and poor coordination
Management of Premature Infant
There are numerous tests that are performed on premature infants as they are born. This can help reduce the risk of complications.
The tests include:
- Chest X-ray to evaluate the development of the heart and lungs
- A blood test to check the bilirubin, hemoglobin, glucose and calcium level
- Blood gas analysis
- The first step in premature infant management is to give medications to the mother to delay the delivery.
- If the labor cannot be stopped and the baby has to be delivered premature, the doctors prepare for a high-risk birth. The hospital needs to have a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), to ensure the infant receives immediate care after birth.
- In the first few days of life, the newborn is kept in an incubator as the main focus is on supporting vital organs. The baby’s heart rate, breathing rate, and oxygen levels are monitored continuously.
- The vital nutrients are given intravenously or using a tube inserted through the nose or mouth into the stomach.
- The premature infant is also given oxygen if the lungs are not fully developed. Depending on how well the infant is able to breathe there are different ways oxygen is given to the baby.
- Ventilator machine that helps pump air into and out of the lungs
- Oxygen hood which is a device that is fitted over the infants head to supply oxygen
- CPAP continuous positive air pressure is a treatment to keep the airways open, using mild air pressure.
- The premature infant is released from the hospital once he is able to breathe without support, breastfeed or bottle-feed and maintains body temperature, and body weight.
- Premature infants require special care and NICU provides an environment that limits stress to the baby. It provides warmth, protection, and nutrition to the baby for proper growth.
- Due to the recent advance in mother and baby care the death-related with premature birth has reduced greatly.
How To Prevent Premature Birth?
Proper prenatal care plays a major role in preventing premature birth. Other preventive measures are as follows:
- Eating a healthy diet including lean protein, fresh vegetables, and fruits.
- Keeping yourself hydrated
- Quitting smoking or any other illegal drug
- Keeping the blood pressure under control
Keep the doctor informed about any unusual thing happening and never miss the prenatal doctor check-ups.