When birth happens too soon

It doesn’t matter how much planning you put into arranging your pregnancy timeline and birth plan, occasionally your baby may arrive early. Premature birth can be terrifying: Your baby may be in a life-and-death struggle for survival. Fortunately, medical advances have made it possible for very young premature babies to survive, often without lifelong disabilities. Here are some tips on premature birth to help you understand and cope:

What is premature birth?

Birth is considered premature if you go into labour before the 37th week. It is considered premature as your baby may not be fully developed, and could require further maturity with the development of certain organs, especially the lungs.

What causes premature birth?

There may be several pre-existing conditions which could present a risk for premature birth, including: couples who have had infertility treatment are more likely to have a preemie, and this may be related to factors such as maternal age and weight and also IVF treatment. Exposure to cigarette smoke may be a factor. A multiple pregnancy of twins or triplets frequently leads to premature birth. Maternal health problems such as preeclampsia or chronic conditions such as diabetes, blood pressure and so on may also lead to premature birth. Studies are varied on the causes of premature birth, with factors such as living closer to high traffic volumes and even working night shifts being linked to premature birth.

What are the risks?

If you give birth prematurely as a result of maternal health, then doctors will obviously attend to any risks the mother may face. A baby born before 35 weeks may require varied degrees of assistance with breathing, and could be susceptible to breathing problems such as apnoea. Prior to 30 weeks, babies are commonly treated for a heart condition affecting circulation. This may require blood transfusions, intravenous fluids or medicines for treatment. (Mayo Clinic).

Other challenges a premature infant may face include brain problems (sometimes mild bleedings occur in babies born before 28 weeks) and more severe complications such as hydrocephalus which may require surgical intervention.

Blood issues such as jaundice and anaemia maybe present, jaundice being common in infants born prior to 38 weeks, and a premature baby may experience gastrointestinal issues. Some preemies battle with metabolism control as a result of immature livers struggling to produce glucose.

Long term problems

Brain injury caused by poor circulation or insufficient oxygen may lead to cerebral palsy, a disorder which affects muscle tone and movement. In addition, doctors will monitor premature babies for hearing issues, vision problems, dental challenges or even behavioural problems and learning disabilities.
The good news is that not all premature babies experience these medical problems. Depending on how early your baby arrives, those premature baby issues may be resolved without lasting effects.

To think about

Have you checked with your medical aid/insurance company what your cover would provide should you experience premature birth? Medical costs for prolonged treatment may cause additional stress for the parents of a preemie.

According to babycentre.com, 80% of babies born at 26 weeks survive to one year and 90% of babies born at 27 weeks. A baby born before 28 weeks is still regarded as high risk, however, and will be thin, as well as require breathing assistance. Babies have survived being born as young as 21 weeks and five days (the earliest on record), but available medical treatment and the health of the individual baby both help to determine survival.

Just too small

Tragically, not all premature babies survive those critical first days and weeks. There are many support groups and counselling services available for parents who have lost a premature baby. Unfortunately, even with the best medical treatment a preemie may simply not be strong enough to survive, and it’s important for family and friends to be aware and sensitive to parents whose child is born early.

This touching video explores the facts and emotions of premature birth and the loss of a premature baby:

Premature birth via Malminiitty/Youtube

Do consult a medical professional during your pregnancy and ask about premature birth.

Do you have any conditions which may lead to a premature birth?

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