A Premature Start To Life

Here are some basic facts to help you better relate to the preemie-moms you may meet.

People often think that premature babies are simply born before ‘term’ babies; they stay in the NICU until they’re out of any life-threatening danger and until they’ve caught up, and then everything’s back to normal – right? Not quite.

What does prematurity mean?

A premature baby is born before the usual 37-40 weeks. They’re not only smaller, but also often underdeveloped, born before they are completely mature or ready. The good news is that with the quality of medical care available today, most preemies have a very good chance of survival. Some preemies will need intensive care, but others may only need a bit of specialised care.

In addition, low-tech strategies like skin-to-skin and kangaroo mother care make all the difference and can be safely used for most premature babies; research shows how these babies often adjust to conditions out of the womb better, breastfeed more successfully and pick up weight faster.

Possible complications

Very premature babies can be quite a shock to see: purplish-red with wrinkled skin and more vernix and body hair than in term babies. Usually, the smaller and more premature Baby is, the more complications like breathing and heart problems, digestive difficulties, stunted growth and anaemia there are. There might also be:

  • Temperature control problems – Baby doesn’t have enough body fat to keep warm, so he uses all the energy from food to stay warm instead of for growing.
  • Weak immunity –Baby may be prone to catching infections in the first months.
  • Problems feeding – breastfeeding may take a bit more patience, but Baby needs every drop of breast milk’s goodness. Solids are only introduced at about six months corrected age, so that’s quite a bit later than for term babies.
  • Hearing and vision problems – Baby will need to be tested regularly in the early years.
  • Tactile defensiveness – an inability to tolerate touch stimulation; Baby will arch away from contact, cry constantly, and dislike labels in clothing and lumps in food.

Some of Baby’s milestones may be a little bit delayed compared to term babies, but he should catch up by the time he starts school. Most preemies outgrow all complications, but there are some more serious conditions which may continue into adulthood.

Corrected age is worked out from Baby’s due date instead of his date of birth.

Factors contributing to premature birth

  • Smoking, drug, and alcohol use
  • Cervix and uterine abnormalities
  • Malnourishment – especially if Mom has a zinc deficiency
  • Multiple pregnancy – twins, triplets and more
  • Heavy physical labour
  • Prolonged, severe stress
  • Very young women (teenagers) or women over the age of 35