Infants born before the 37th week of pregnancy are considered premature babies. We thank God for advances in science and medicine, it is becoming more and more possible to deliver healthy babies earlier and save the lives of babies born as early as 24 weeks. These new techniques and technologies include advanced incubators, alternative feeding methods, and a better understanding of the types of complications that tend to affect preemies, as well as preventive strategies that keep babies in utero for longer.
The following are some surprising facts about premature babies:
1. A premature baby is one who is born before 37 weeks gestational age. A late preterm baby is between 34-37 weeks; very preterm infants are born before 32 weeks; extremely preterm are born before 25 weeks in utero. The closer a baby comes to full term, generally the fewer the complications.
2. Premature babies are evaluated according to an “adjusted age,” which is their chronological age minus the difference between her birth date and her due date.
3. In assessing premature babies, studies have found that their motor skill milestones are achieved concurrently with their full-term peers, once you account for adjusted age. Cognitive milestones are more individually determined, and are less often different from full-term babies, making the adjusted age less relevant.
4. Premature babies are born so small that they are weighed in grams rather than ounces (and pounds)
Full-term babies usually weigh more than 2,500 grams (about 5 pounds, 8 ounces), whereas premature babies weigh anywhere from about 500 grams (about 1 pound, 1 ounce) to 2,500 grams.
5. Dr. Mia Doron, associate professor of pediatrics at University of North Carolina says that the majority of premature children will catch up in size within the first year, with only a few who will never catch up. While in some cases there is an obvious medical cause for the discrepancy, in other children it is impossible to tell why they grow smaller. Genetics is one possible cause.
6. Temperature regulation is one of the biggest challenges for premature babies. Incubators are standard treatments used to heat the baby, who has little fat for insulation. Struggling to maintain a higher body temperature on his own may deplete the baby’s nutritional and energy resources, so the incubator lamps help keep him toasty.
7. Breast milk is the ideal nourishment for preemies, as it is common for them to suffer gastrointestinal problems. If breast milk is not viable, formula can be administered. If the baby is too small or weak to take food from a bottle, a feeding tube may be used either by nose or mouth.
8. Some preemies present breathing problems, especially when they are born before the 35th week. These babies may spend time on a respirator in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The ability to breathe, to digest food, and her weight will be the most important ways to measure her progress.
9. Since premature babies are at a higher risk of other health complications, from infection to permanent disabilities, the time spent in the NICU is important, however frustrating for parents who just want their baby home.
10. Phototherapy is one of the types of treatments administered in the NICU, intended to help the baby cope with jaundice and elevated bilirubin, a condition common in preemies.
11. If a preemie has been on feeding tubes, the day he can digest milk on his own is a huge milestone.
12. Graduating to a regular crib is another giant step for a preterm baby. It means she can regulate her body temperature on her own and closer to going home.
13. A preemie may give the impression that he is not growing as quickly as a full-term peer, but in a year or two that illusion vanishes.
14. Long after your baby has come home, adjusted age may come into play again as you
consider things like when to begin kindergarten or in which cabin to place her at camp.
15. Preemies parents learn about their babies’ challenges and advocate for them. They become educated in how to best help their children reach their milestones in life and live good lives. Therapies like physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy can be great partners in keeping those miracle babies on track.