When Babies Come Before They’re Due
When you first found out you were expecting, chances are one of the first things you may have done is circle a due date on the calendar. From that moment, you anticipated the day you would hold your infant in your arms.
But what happens when a baby comes before their time?
Premature births are a relatively low incident; roughly 8% to 10% of births in the United States are premature.
A premature baby, sometimes referred to as a preemie, is a baby that is born before the 37th week of pregnancy. A full-term pregnancy is one that lasts between 38 to 42 weeks. Because they have not reached the maturity of a full-term baby, premature babies often weigh significantly less than full-term babies.
Luckily, today's technologies provide amazing support to premature infants. Most preemies will spend time in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). These units are specially designed to care for the littlest and more fragile infants, supporting the infant in development of their organs and other systems. These units also maintain a warm temperature, helping the infant to keep warm, which is sometimes challenging due to their lack of body fat.
As with all children, a pediatrician will work with you to monitor the growth and development of your child and will make recommendations for a specialist if or when needed.
In addition to needing special medical care, preemies often have additional nutritional needs. This is due to their underdeveloped digestive systems that may require that foods (i.e. breast milk or special formula) be administered slowly, usually through a tube that enters through the baby's mouth or nose and runs into the stomach.
Premature babies can be subject to health problems as some of their organs are not fully developed. These health problems may include respiratory issues, low blood pressure, anemia (a condition defined as a lack of red blood cells which carry oxygen throughout the body), and infections, among other ailments.
The good news?
Medical technology is amazing. Babies are resilient. Together, most premature babies will go on to live healthy lives. Some may show delays in areas of development. These delays may affect the nervous system, as well as speech or other behaviors. As with all children, a pediatrician will work with you to monitor the growth and development of your child and will make recommendations for a specialist if or when needed.
Although the start of life may be a bit “bumpy” for an infant who makes an early debut, thanks to medical advances, their future often shines bright.