Human beings carry their young inside them for 9 months, or 40 weeks before giving birth. There are however plenty of cases in which the baby must be birthed before they are ready to be birthed. These are known as premature births. A child born before 37 weeks of pregnancy is known as a premature baby. Premature baby development is different from a normal baby. The term is self-explanatory: the fetus hasn’t got enough time in the womb to fully mature or develop. As a result, premature baby complications are galore and these children tend to suffer from ill health.
What causes premature birth?
About 50% of the time, the cause for a premature birth is unknown. However there are certain events that have been proven to be the culprit for premature births. Primarily, any change in the body that causes a disruption to the womb or cervix could result in a premature baby. It could depend on the fetus or the mother or both. Some of the main causes of premature birth are:
- Sudden hormonal changes in the mother’s body that cause stress to the delicate amniotic environment in the womb.
- The placenta could separate or detach from the uterus during pregnancy, resulting in bleeding. This is known as placental abruption.
- The cervix could open painlessly and gradually before the time it is needed to. This is called an incompetent cervix.
- Infections can also cause premature births. Urinary tract infections if left untreated are said to double the chances of a premature birth.
- Bacterial vaginosis is another infection that could possibly cause premature birth. If you have vaginal discharge that has a fishy smell, you might want to schedule a check-up with your doctor right away.
Premature baby development week by week
These children are known as micro-preemies. Sadly, only about half of the children born around this week survive. Their airways and breathing organs have not fully developed yet, so they may need respiratory support for some time. They can hear sounds very well and might even get overwhelmed around loud noises.
By this stage, the baby’s footprints and fingerprints are starting to develop. Their lungs are slowly developing and still need support to breathe normally. They will react to sounds and get startled if they hear something loud.
These babies have a much greater chance of surviving than micro-preemies. They still need a lot of care and attention and will have to be in the hospital under supervision. They can blink, have rapid eye movement during sleep and have somewhat defined sleeping and waking up cycles.
They now have a small amount of fat stored beneath their skin and their brains are starting to develop enough to control and regulate body temperature. Their organs are much more developed than earlier born preemies.
They might be able to regulate their body temperature without an incubator. At this point they have developed considerable amounts of fat. Bright sounds and loud noises will still be a disturbance to them at this stage. They may still need help to breathe for some time.
Even though they may look like fully grown babies, they still need help breathing and eating because their lungs haven’t developed fully and the ability to breathe and swallow isn’t quite there yet. They are called late preterm babies.
Why do premature babies need special care?
Reading about a premature child’s week by week progress, you must be now aware of how small and undeveloped their vital organs are. While a child is inside the womb, it is protected and nourished constantly through the placenta attached to its mother. But if a child is born prematurely, this comforting and enriching environment is taken away from it and it is exposed to the world outside, without having developed enough physically to handle it. This is why a premature baby needs incubators to keep them warm, their brains haven’t developed fully to control and regulate their body temperatures. They need respiratory support because their lungs and airways haven’t developed fully to support breathing. They need to practice sucking and swallowing because their reflexes aren’t strong enough. The weight, height and size of a premature baby alone signals alarm and it must be taken special care of.
How to take care of a premature baby?
The effects of premature birth on child development can be very serious if proper care isn’t provided. If by any chance you might be having a premature birth, there are certain steps you can take to care for it. First things first, you guessed it: hospitalization. Hospitals have special centers that are reserved for premature births known as Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU). They come equipped with the technology that is needed to simulate a comforting environment for your child in order for it to sustain growth and development until it no longer needs it.
The NICU unit will have several machines and systems that can be intimidating at first but learning about what each machine does will help you understand the different processes of caring for a premature baby.
- Monitoring the child’s blood pressure, heart rate, temperature levels are of utmost importance. These 3 are the first indicators to check if something goes wrong. These monitors come with alarms that will go off should something look out of the ordinary.
- Next, the most common equipment is the incubator along with the bili lights. The incubators simply create a bacteria free and warm environment for the child to be in.
- To help the baby’s respiratory system, there are different methods present. The ventilator and endotracheal tubes help the child take warm humidified breaths at the correct speed.
- An oxygen hood is also used to cover the baby’s head with a clear box that pumps oxygen around the baby.
- There are several methods of feeding as well. Starting with the intravenous tubes that provide direct nutrition to the baby’s bloodstream if they haven’t learnt how to suck and swallow yet.
- There are also oral and nasal tubes used to give breast milk to babies that can digest it but still cannot control their eating reflexes.
When can a premature baby come home?
This is the pressing question that parents have. Waiting for your little one to be all right and self-sufficient can be an exhausting and draining time in your life. It’s important to remember that keeping a child in the hospital is perhaps the only way to ensure that there is minimum damage to their lives in the future. Rushing the process will do you or your baby no good.
There are certain milestones your baby must reach before they can leave the NICU staff or equipment. Your baby must be able to do these on his/her own in order for them to be fit to leave the hospital and come back home to you!
- Feeding from their mouths: if they are able to suck, swallow and digest breast milk by themselves using proper reflexes.
- Maintaining body temperature: if they are able to do so without being placed in an incubator or any environment that maintains a controlled temperature. They should be able to regulate body temperature so that they can do the same at home.
- Breathe on their own: if they are able to breathe without oxygen provided in any form; like an oxygen box or tubes.
- No more apnea: if the child doesn’t go through periods of apnea (in which a baby stops breathing for 20 seconds) then it is fit to go home. Apnea is one of the more common things that premature babies face.
You as a parent must also learn about techniques such as CPR to help y our child during emergencies. Reading up as much as you can, doing your research and being in constant contact with your doctor will help you help your little one reach its full potential!