Preemies: Babies Born Too Early

I’m going to touch on a subject that really hits close to home – prematurity. To some it may not seem as critical as other conditions, but it is something that affects 1 in 9 babies born each year. Being born too early can have a significant impact on a child’s health for the rest of their life, which is why organizations such as March of Dimes conducts research to find the causes of preterm labor and to educate women to prevent babies being born too soon.

Having had 2 preemies myself, I have seen firsthand the hardship it puts on babies and their families. My first child was born 6 weeks early after I spent a month in the hospital on bed rest due to no amniotic fluid. At 4lbs 4oz the doctors were amazed that she wasn’t smaller as they had originally expected. She spent 2 weeks in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) until she was able to eat and breathe simultaneously without the need for a feeding tube (and treated for Jaundice). My husband and mother-in-law had prepared the nursery and everything at home while I was in the hospital because I was only 26 weeks when I was admitted and we had nothing ready. When I returned home, walking in to seeing all the baby stuff set up while our baby had to stay behind in an incubator 30+ miles away was not what I had imagined after having my baby. It was heartbreaking everyday that I couldn’t hold her (I had a c-section so I couldn’t drive and because the hospital was a good distance from our home I was only able to go when my husband or mother could bring me) It was hard and we were very fortunate that she did not have any other serious conditions. During her stay there I saw many other preemies, some just a little over 2lbs fighting for their life. My daughter, now almost 4 now, is doing very well although she is tiny for her age which her pediatrician said she probably would be most of her life and her immune system is a little weak. She was also late hitting her developmental milestones which is to be expected in preemies. Still, she’s as rambunctious as any child her age.

My daughter born 6 weeks early. Just barely bigger than my hand

My daughter born 6 weeks early. Just barely bigger than my hand

In between the time I had my daughter and my son (3 years later) I had 3 miscarriages. The cause was uncertain, but early in my pregnancy with my son we nearly lost him too due to a blood clot. Fortunately it was caught early on with an ultrasound and treated. That is why it is so important for women to be informed about taking necessary measures for their health and the health of their unborn babies to prevent complications and serious conditions resulting from premature delivery.

Preemies: Common Issues

Babies are not fully developed until they reach 39 weeks gestation. Preemies can experience many health problems that can affect them for the rest of their life depending on severity and how early they were born. Until babies reach 39 weeks, vital organs such as the brain, lungs, and liver are still developing. At 35 weeks, a baby’s brain will weigh less than 70% what it will weigh at 39 weeks.

Common problems preemies face when they are born include:mobile pics 211

  • Difficulty maintaining body temperature
  • Can not suck and swallow while breathing simultaneously
  • Respiratory distress syndrome
  • Vision and hearing problems

Newborn preemies are often faced with a much higher risk for certain conditions such as cerebral palsy, chronic lung disease, and jaundice than babies born full-term. Babies who are born prior to 37 weeks are often sent to the NICU to be treated immediately and given special medical attention. Generally, babies stay in the NICU until all of their organ systems are fully functioning properly though for certain conditions the baby may be sent home with special medical equipment.

Reducing Your Odds of Having a Premature Baby

Every year, 15 million babies are born prematurely throughout the world. While some circumstances, such as mine, cannot be controlled there are things you can do to prevent your risk of having a baby born too early.

Prenatal Care – 20% of premature births occur from an early induction as a result of complications during pregnancy. With the right prenatal care and taking precautions for certain risk factors, many conditions can be treated early on or even avoided altogether. Attend regular doctor’s appointments and follow your doctor’s orders regarding diet and healthy habits.
Stay well hydrated – Drinking adequate amounts of water to prevent dehydration is especially important during pregnancy. Dehydration can lead to preterm labor and other potential conditions such as low amniotic fluid which may require an early delivery.
Don’t Smoke, drink, or take illicit drugs – these can not only lead to premature labor, they can also cause severe birth defects. If you have an addiction, talk to your doctor about seeking safe treatment during pregnancy.
Avoid stress – stress is another factor that can cause preterm labor, so try to reduce your stress levels during pregnancy by seeking help when needed and managing stress at work. Exercise is very beneficial to pregnancy health and reducing stress levels granted that it is advised by your doctor.

Signs of Preterm Labor

Knowing the signs of preterm labor could help you avoid having an early delivery. In some cases, preterm labor can be treated allowing you to carry closer to your due date. If you experience any of the following call your doctor immediately or go to the nearest hospital:

  • Experience contractions that are 10 minutes apart or less
  • Notice a change in vaginal discharge
  • Feel pressure on your pelvis
  • Experience low or dull backache
  • Cramping like menstrual cramps or abdominal cramping with or without diarrhea

A physical exam can determine if you are actually going into labor in which your doctor may be able to postpone delivery. Certain drugs, such as tocolytics, have been shown to suppress labor and delay delivery for a few days. Every day that your baby stays in utero prior to 39 weeks is crucial to their development.

The rate at which preemies are being born is on the rise. Follow these guidelines and your doctor’s instructions on prenatal care to reduce your odds of an early delivery. If you are planning on having a scheduled delivery, it is ideal to wait until you are at least 39 weeks or as close to your expected due date as possible. We know 9 months seems like a long time to wait, but the most precious gifts take time to become perfect.

Reference:
1) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/prematurebabies.html

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