Born Early (Preterm): Health Concerns
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Because preterm (premature) babies are
born before they are physically ready to leave the womb, they often have health
problems. These newborns have higher rates of disabilities (such as cerebral
palsy) and even death.
Because of these health concerns, preterm babies are
given extra medical attention and assistance immediately after delivery.
Depending on how early the baby has arrived, your pediatrician or obstetrician
may call in a neonatologist (a pediatrician who specializes in the care of
preterm or very ill babies) to help determine what, if any, special treatment
the infant needs.
Here are some of the most common conditions that
occur in preterm infants:
Respiratory distress syndrome is a
breathing disorder related to the baby's immature lungs. It occurs
because the lungs of preterm babies often lack surfactant, a liquid substance
that allows the lungs to remain expanded. Artificial surfactants can be used to
treat these babies, along with a ventilator to help them breathe better and
maintain adequate oxygen levels in their blood. Sometimes, extremely preterm
babies may need long term oxygen treatment and occasionally may go home on
supportive oxygen therapy.
Bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or chronic lung
disease, is a term used to describe babies who require oxygen for
several weeks or months. They tend to outgrow this uncommon condition, which
varies in severity, as their lungs grow and mature.
Apnea is a temporary pause (more than
fifteen seconds) in breathing that is common in preterm infants. It often is
associated with a decline in the heart rate, called bradycardia. A drop in
oxygen saturation as measured by a machine called pulse
oximetry is called desaturation. Most infants outgrow the condition
by the time they leave the hospital for home. Retinopathy of
prematurity (ROP) is an eye disease in which the retina is not
fully developed. Most cases resolve without treatment, although serious cases
may need treatment, including laser surgery in the most severe instances. Your
infant may be examined by a pediatric ophthalmologist or retina specialist to
diagnose and, if needed, recommend treatment for this condition.
Jaundice happens when a chemical called
bilirubin builds up in the baby's blood. As a
result, the skin may develop a yellowish color. Jaundice can occur in babies of
any race or color. Treating it involves placing the undressed baby under special
lights (while her eyes are covered to protect them). Other conditions sometimes
seen in preterm babies include anemia of prematurity (a low red blood cell
count) and heart murmurs.
HealthyChildren.org (AAP Parenting Web site)
March of Dimes
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Source: Adapted from Caring for Your Baby
and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Copyright © 2009 American
Academy of Pediatrics)
Copyright © 2010 American Academy of Pediatrics