What are the Long-term Problems for Premature Babies?

Preemie holding parents hand
Getting through the weeks to months after a premature delivery is difficult for both the parents and the baby. The care of preemies is so good in high level Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) that at least 90% of babies born at 28 weeks survive.

Studies on children born now would be expected to show even better outcomes, because the care of preterm infants has improved greatly since 1967.

In order to do so, babies need sophisticated medical care. A very-early preterm baby may be obviously sick, needing breathing support and tube feeding, and may sustain brain and lung damage. An older preemie may have much less in the way of visible problems. However, many premature babies have at least some behavior or learning difficulties as they get older.

Preterm babies need to be cared for in a NICU. Very-early preterm babies should be in high level NICUs, and are often transferred to hospitals prepared to care for them properly.

There are a number of specific medical problems that can be caused by being born prematurely. These usually occur during the hospital stay, but there may be residual illness or damage. Babies born before 32 weeks are the most at risk for later health problems.

Acute medical problems can lead to other problems when the children are older. Some of the more serious conditions related to prematurity include:

  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS). Preemies less than 34 weeks of gestational age usually have RDS, which occurs because the baby's lungs have not had time to develop. It is treated with a medicine called surfactant, oxygen, and sometimes a ventilator.
  • Apnea. Apnea means that the baby stops breathing for 20 seconds or more. Preemies are monitored, and an alarm goes off, telling the nurse to stimulate the baby to breathe.
  • Intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH). IVH is bleeding into the brain. Preemies born before 32 weeks are the most at risk. The bleeding resolves most of the time. However, some kinds of bleeding can damage the substance of the brain. This can lead to cerebral palsy, mental retardation, learning and behavior problems.
  • Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). The ductus arteriosus is how blood bypasses the lungs of the baby in the womb. It closes after birth so that the blood can go to the lungs to get oxygen. Failure of the ductus to close can lead to heart failure. PDA is usually treated with medicines to help close it. Occasionally surgery is necessary.
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis: Necrotizing enterocolitis, which is a very serious infection of the intestine, usually comes on later, 2 to 3 weeks after birth. Treatment includes antibiotics and intravenous feeding to let the bowel heal. If it doesn't, surgery is needed to remove the affected part of the bowel.
  • Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). ROP is an abnormal growth of blood vessels in the back of the eyes, usually in babies born before 32 weeks. Sometimes this resolves by itself. It can be treated using a laser or cryotherapy (freezing).
  • Bronchopulmonary dysplasia. BPD is a chronic lung disease of preemies who needed a lot of extra oxygen as the result of RDS. Babies who still need supplemental oxygen at 36 weeks (the total of weeks in the womb plus the weeks after birth) can wind up with lung damage. BPD can be treated with medications. If it is severe, the baby may need a ventilator. BPD usually improves over the first 2 years, but some children have a persistent disease resembling asthma.

MORE: Understanding Kangaroo Care for Preemies }

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What are the Long-term Problems for Premature Babies?

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  1. I was born 3 month early. I was 2.5 lbs. I have asthma, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems I have had to overcome.

  2. Profile photo of Ankit Ankit says:

    tellll me

    what can i do for this problem

  3. Profile photo of Ankit Ankit says:

    my partner two month early born
    she worried about her pregnancy.
    because she things her baby week and after born baby died
    she also dead during pregnancy.
    is it true
    plz give me ans fast
    i m also worried

  4. I was 2 months premature and I haven’t had an real issues. But I have always wondered if my height was affected by being premature?!? I know it sound ridiculous but I am the shortest person in my family, i have never reached 5′ It’s strange! I had under developed kidneys as a child which the doctors said could have had something to do with being premature also.

  5. Profile photo of tanisha tanisha says:

    I just gave birth to a premature baby praying everything goes well i was 31 weekspregnant he is doing fine for now no problems so far breathing an feeding on his own just needs to gain 1 pound to come home

  6. Profile photo of 2PersiansMom 2PersiansMom says:

    I was a premature fraternal twin born at 32 weeks weighing 3 lbs 6 oz. My twin brother weighed 3 lbs 5 oz. We both came out all right even though we were both 9 weeks premature. We were born before NICU’s or Surfactant was invented. We spent 6 weeks in Adult ICU and went home at 5 lbs each. We are truly blessed to be all right after we read what could have happened to us both due to our premature births.

  7. So sad. Very blessed to have never had a preemie baby

  8. Profile photo of Phammom Phammom says:

    I pray I don’t go in labor to early. But it all happens for a reason.

  9. Profile photo of katherine katherine says:

    My baby had apnea n rot


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