Preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under 5 years of age.
According to the World Health Organisation, three-quarters of these deaths could be prevented with current, cost-effective interventions.
Preterm births are categorized into the following sub groups: extremely preterm (less than 28 weeks); very preterm (28 to 32 weeks)
moderate to late preterm (32 to 37 weeks).
Breathing problems: A premature baby may have trouble breathing due to an immature respiratory system. A premature baby may develop respiratory distress syndrome if his or her lungs can’t expand and contract normally.
Premature babies may also develop a lung disorder known as bronchopulmonary dysplasia. Also, some preterm babies may experience prolonged pauses in their breathing known as apnea. Apnea of prematurity would usually go on its own but while it lasts, it can be very frightening and sometimes the premature infant would need help to normalize breathing and heart beat.
Heart problems: One very common heart problem premature babies experience is low blood pressure otherwise known as hypotension. This may require medicines and even blood transfusions in addition to adjustment in intravenous fluids to treat. Apart from hypotension, premature babies are also prone to patent ductus arteriosus which is a persistent opening between the aorta and pulmonary artery which if left untreated can lead to heart murmur or heart failure.
Brain problems: The earlier a baby is born, the greater the risk of bleeding in the brain, known as an intraventricular hemorrhage. Most hemorrhages are mild and resolve with little short-term impact. But some babies may have larger brain bleeding that causes permanent brain injury.
Temperature control problems: Premature babies can lose body heat very fast this is because they don’t have the stored body fat of a full-term infant, and therefore can’t generate enough heat to check loss of temperature through body surface. When body temperature dips too low, hypothermia can occur and in a premature baby this can lead to breathing problems and very low blood sugar levels.
When hypothermia occurs, a premature baby may use up all energy it gained from feeding to generate heat. Smaller premature babies require heat from incubator to stay warm until they are big enough for Kangaroo Mothercare which helps with temperature control apart from increased bonding between parent and infant.
Gastrointestinal problems: Premature infants are more likely to have immature gastrointestinal systems, which can result in complications such as necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). Feeding a premature baby with only breast milk reduce the risk of developing NEC considerably.
Blood problems: Premature babies are at risk of blood problems such as anemia and newborn jaundice.
Metabolism problems: Premature babies often have problems with their metabolism and go on to develop hypoglycemia which is low level of blood sugar. Premature babies are also not able to easily conver blood sugar into more usable and active forms of glucose.
Immune system problems: Premature babies have underdeveloped immune system which leaves them susceptible to infection. In premature babies, infection can spread quickly to the bloodstream and when this happens, it causes sepsis which can be fatal.
Apart from the short-term complications listed above, preterm birth may lead to the following long term complications.
Cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, problems with eyesight as a result of retinopathy of prematurity which could lead to retinal detachment which impairs vision and in some cases, ultimately, blindness, hearing problems, dental problems, psychological problems including developmental delays and chronic health issues like infections, such as pneumonia, asthma and feeding problems. Premature babies are also at more risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) than babies born at term.
Join TBHI in the commemoration of this year’s World Prematurity Day as we highlight and analyze how the family is critical in realising the goal of better management of premature babies, better child health and maternal health in Nigeria.