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Premature babies

Sarah Horrocks
by Sarah Horrocks Published on 19 January 2009
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A premature baby is born before the expected date, which means before 37-41 weeks. Here's our guide to premature births.

Factors in premature birth

There are factors which can make premature birth more likely. These are: multiple pregnancies, urinary or genital infections, a badly positioned placenta in the uterus (placenta praevia), high blood pressure linked to pregnancy and diabetes, which can cause premature birth. Pregnancy in very young women or in women older than 35, busy lifestyles, significant weight gain or loss are also factors, as are medical care, fetal and socio-economic factors which need to be taken into account.

Characteristics
The organs of a premature baby have not completely matured and the chances of the baby of surviving without assistance are low. Above all, the immune system is very weak and to prevent all infections, premature babies are isolated in sterile conditions. Premature babies are very sensitive to cold and heat and should be placed in an incubator at a temperature of 34 to 35 degrees Celsius. The atmosphere of the incubator should be humid with a hygrometric degree of 80%. A premature baby can leave the incubator when he or she weighs 2 kg. The baby's breathing will be irregular and interrupted by breaks, which means that intense supervision is necessary. The digestive tube is also immature and so premature babies need to be fed through a gastric catheter because they don’t have the strength to suck or swallow.

Fragile

When there is a risk of premature birth, the medical team will try to time the birth so that a team of specialists can be present. A premature baby poses quite serious problems, depending on the length of the pregnancy, which need urgent attention. For example, immaturity of the lungs may mean the baby cannot breathe on its own and will require a ventilator. The body will not adapt to room temperature, so there is a risk of hypothermia and as a result the baby will be put into an incubator. There is also a risk of hypoglycaemia, so a glucose drip will be needed. The immaturity of the digestive tube can cause problems with metabolism and nutrition; it is common for jaundice to appear because of the underdevelopment of the liver.

It is of course highly stressful to give birth to a premature baby. You have to trust your medical team to take care of your baby as well as possible during the first few days - maybe even weeks - of your baby's life.

by Sarah Horrocks

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