Having your baby earlier than expected can be scary, but infants born prematurely are capable of surviving and growing up to have the same quality of life as individuals who are not born early.
A premature baby is one born before 37 weeks of gestation time. If a woman goes into labor before 37 weeks, it is referred to as preterm labor. In a typical pregnancy, delivery between 37 and 42 weeks is considered a full term, and anything after 42 weeks gestation is a post-term pregnancy.
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia stresses that the cause of preterm labor is often unknown, but multiple pregnancies, of twins or more, make up about 15 percent of all premature births. Health conditions affecting the mother, such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, premature cervical dilation, clotting disorders, placenta previa, pre-eclampsia or rupture of the membranes can lead to a preterm birth.
If your little one is born early and is struggling, do not give up hope. Learn about your premature baby and remain informed about potential health risks he may face. Premature infants with severe problems will stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit until their health improves. The March of Dimes, which is devoted to lowering the infant mortality rate, says that respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) can be common in premature infants. A premature baby may need the support of a ventilator until his lungs mature. Premature babies can also suffer from anemia, brain bleeding and heart problems, and may struggle to fight off infections.
Appearance and Development
Premature infants will look different than full term babies, though characteristics are different for each baby. Preemies have a lot of body hair, also called lanugo. MedlinePlus explains that preemies often have translucent skin with visible veins. Preemies are small and weigh under 5 pounds. Full term babies typically reach milestones like walking earlier than those born prematurely, but a premature baby's milestones will happen eventually. WebMD describes "corrected age" as a premature infant's chronological age minus the amount of time between her birth and the full term. In other words, a nine-month-old born two months early has a corrected age of seven months, and may act like a seven-month-old.
Most premature babies catch up in size in the first year of life, according to Babycenter.com. Preemies accomplish the same milestones as full term babies, just not as quickly. As a premature child begins school, WebMD stresses to "be alert for signs of learning problems. Learning, reading, and math disabilities due to prematurity may first become apparent during the early school years." Most premature infants do not grow up to have disabilities. However, premature babies born before 26 weeks gestation may be more likely to suffer from intellectual disability, blindness, deafness and cerebral palsy.
Premature Infants as Teenagers and Adults
Children born early do not always develop a hearty appetite, and may need to have their eating habits monitored. Catch-up growth can continue into the teen years, and the majority of preterm babies develop into average-sized adults. The Boston Globe cited a Norwegian study on premature infants that concluded premature boys were 76 percent less likely to reproduce. Prematurely born women were 67 percent less likely to reproduce, and had an increased risk of having premature offspring. However, premature infants have a good chance of growing up healthy and leading a normal life if given support along the way.