The normal gestation period is 260 to 280 days, ideally consisting of 40 weeks. Though several babies are born prior to this time period, if any baby is born before this duration, he/she is referred as a premature baby. If a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, the baby is prone to short term as well as long term health complications. Generally, they do need more care and hospital stay as compared to the ones born in ideal time.
Most of the babies born early possess low birth weight, which plays an important role in several aspects. While some of the complications may exist since the birth, others may develop later in life.
The following complications are experienced during the first few weeks/months of birth-
- Breathing complication- Due to the presence of an immature respiratory system, a premature baby may experience trouble in breathing. This is primarily due to lack of a substance called ‘surfactant’, which enables contraction and expansion, which enables breathing.Preterm babies may also acquire ‘Broncho-Pulmonary Dysplasia’, chronic lung disease and ‘apnea’ which result is difficulty breathing with prolonged pauses.
- Brain malfunction– A preterm baby is highly prone to intra-ventricular hemorrhage, the rupture and bleeding of an artery in the brain. Though most of them gets resolved on its own, some babies need medical help. Excessive bleeding can cause permanent brain damage.
Excessive bleeding can also lead to hydrocephalus, i.e. accumulation of fluid in the brain, for which surgery remains the only feasible solution to release the fluid accumulation.
- Cardiac ailments– Patent Ductus Arterious (PDA) and Hypotension (low blood pressure) are the two most experienced heart problems among preterm babies. PDA is a disease in which a natural opening exists between two major blood vessels from the heart.PDA often gets corrected on its own, but if it is left untreated, it can result in uncontrolled blood flow and eventually leads to heart attack. Low blood pressure needs medicines and intravenous support and occasionally blood transfusion.
- Thermo regulation problem– A preterm baby may lose body heat quickly, as he cannot produce an adequate amount of heat to keep balanced heat. The prime reason for the same being, the baby’s body lacks adequate amount of fat to regulate ideal temperature. If the temperature falls beyond a limit, it can result in hypothermia.This condition does not come alone and brings several other problems, including low blood sugar and breathing troubles. The baby’s body tends to use all energy from breastfeeding to staying warm, and thus it does not help to grow. This is the prime reason, why preterm babies are kept in an incubator, until they can deal with the external environment on their own.
Check out 4 more short term complication of preterm birth here.