Premature babies suffer from various health issues and complications because they do not completely developed in the mother’s womb. These health problems can be short-term (that lasts for a week or a month) or long- term (that lasts for a lifetime).
Premature babies may develop breathing problems in the first week of birth because of an immature respiratory system. The most common problem is apnea, an irregular breathing pattern. Many babies go on to develop a chronic lung disease called bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) or scarring of the lungs. Premature babies who have respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) and require external help to breathe for an extended time period may develop swelling and scarring of the lungs.
Due to immature respiratory organs, preterm babies develop various respiratory problems which lead to pneumonia. It is a lung infection that interferes with the breathing process.
Dr Bhaskar Shenoy, General Paediatrician, Manipal Hospitals, Bengaluru, says: “Premature babies develop respiratory distress syndrome or RDS because of the immaturity of the lungs. Secondly, they are more prone to develop intra cranial haemorrhages that can cause neurological impairment like developmental delays, haemophlegia, quadriplegia, spastic cerebral palsy. Thirdly, for the gut they develop what is called necrotizing interocolitis. In layman’s language, it means the blood supply to the intestine is less so its functioning is affected. The baby begins to pass blood in the stool. The bowel movement does not happen. In cases which are not treated in time, there could also be gangrene developing in the intestine.”
Premature babies also suffer from hypotension or low blood pressure. The most common heart problem among preemies is patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) or open blood vessel. This can appear in normal infants as well. PDA is a condition where the arterial duct or blood vessel does not close.
Jaundice is another common problem with premature babies. It happens when the bilirubin content increases in the blood. The most obvious sign of this is the colour of the skin, which becomes yellowish. Bilirubin is a yellow substance that is produced when red blood cells are broken down; it travels to the liver which breaks down the form of the bilirubin so that it can be excreted out of the body. But, because the liver in premature newborns is not fully developed, it cannot process the bilirubin, hence increasing the bilirubin content in the blood leading to jaundice.
Premature babies require additional external heat as they do not have enough fat in the body; they tend to lose body heat fast. If the body temperature falls too low, it may result in hypothermia. Preemies often have low metabolism rate and a weak immune system which in turn can lead to infections.
Premature babies often require hospital care because they are more likely to develop chronic health issues; they are also at high risk of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS.
Although these complications sound complex, they can be solved with the help of medical science and proper care and treatment.