Special Considerations for the Premature Baby
Every parent hopes and prays that their newborn will be healthy and safe. Normally a pregnancy lasts nine months. The gestation of a full term pregnancy is traditionally between 37 to 42 weeks. Any baby born before 37 weeks is considered premature.
Premature Babies face many challenges that full term babies often escape. This includes the possibility of being born with organs that are underdeveloped. Many premature babies have respiratory problems, as the lungs are generally one of the last organs to develop completely during gestation.
Fortunately modern technology has provided hospitals with the ability to care for infants born prematurely. In times of old infants born before 34 weeks faced many challenges, and were much more likely to die. Modern technology has allowed babies born as early as 26 weeks to still survive. There are several factors which might contribute to a mother's likelihood of having a premature infant. These include the following:
- Having delivered a premature baby before, which increases your risk up to 40%
- Multiple gestations - the parents of twins generally face delivering prematurely
- High Blood Pressure
- Pre-eclampsia - a condition in the mother experiences high blood pressure and edema, normally resulting from a buildup of toxins in the body
- Accident or injury
- Fetal Distress
Some premature babies have to stay in the hospital for several weeks after birth, until they are strong enough to venture home with mom and dad. Babies born before 34 weeks are often given steroids to help the lungs mature, in the hope that respiratory problems might be minimized. Some premature babies are too weak when born to suckle at mother's breast. Moms however are still encouraged to place their premature infant at their chests. Studies show that babies who have skin to skin contact when born prematurely are more likely to thrive and gain weight faster than those who are not.
Mothers who give birth to a premature baby sometimes have to pump for the first few weeks in order to establish an adequate milk supply. If you find this is the case, you might consider renting a hospital grade pump to allow for optimal milk supply maintenance. Premature babies can be fed breast milk through a bottle. Premature babies will benefit from having the antibody rich milk from their mother's breast.
Some babies born after 34 weeks require little extra assistance. Many leave the hospital after a few days, though the majority of babies born prematurely are not discharged until a time near their original due date. Signs that your baby is thriving include the ability to eat and a regular pattern of weight gain. The hospital staff will also take great care to ensure your baby is breathing well on his own. Some infants are born with a condition called jaundice, and are placed under special bilirubin lights to help the body break up the materials causing jaundice.
All newborns are at risk for infection because their immune systems need time to properly mature. This is even more so the case for premature infants. Many physicians recommend that you not take your infant into public/crowded places until they are at minimum three months old, to reduce the likelihood that they will catch a potentially life threatening cold.
Many babies born prematurely eventually catch up to their peers within a year. Thanks to modern technology a majority of babies born prematurely will do just as well as those born at or around their due date.