Born Early (Preterm): Health Concerns
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
Jaundice happens when a chemical called
HealthyChildren.org (AAP Parenting Web site)
March of Dimes
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Source: Adapted from