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Early Arrival

Premature birth is common

Each year, about 11% of babies are born prematurely. But because of medical advances, 95% of children born after 28 weeks have a better chance of survival. Premature babies need special care. Because premature babies are born before they are physically ready to leave the womb, they require extra medical attention immediately after delivery. It may be a few days or weeks before the child’s lungs fully develop, before he begins to breathe and feed on his own, and before he is able to maintain his own body temperature. Your baby will probably be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit or neonatal intermediate care unit.

No one knows for sure why most premature babies are born early, but smoking, drinking alcohol, and using drugs during pregnancy can contribute to prematurity. Premature babies do not look like full-term infants. There is no reason to worry though; your baby will begin to look more like a typical newborn as he grows. Because premature infants are small, they have a great need for food to gain strength and build resistance to disease. At first they may need to receive fluids intravenously (through an IV) or through a feeding tube. Breast milk is the best nutrition for your baby. If your baby is not able to nurse at first, you can pump your milk and it can be given to her.  Though premature babies are at higher risk for some problems, most of them grow into healthy children. Early diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing care can give your child a brighter future.

Special Health Issues

  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS):

What it is: RDS is a breathing problem cause by immature lungs. Premature infants’ lungs may lack a liquid substance called surfactant that gives fully developed lungs the elastic qualities required for easy breathing. Without surfactant, the lungs tend to collapse, forcing a tiny baby to work harder to breathe.

Treatment: Many infants will require a ventilator, or respirator, to breathe for them. Artificial surfactants are now available and are very effective in treating RDS. Many babies respond very well to this treatment.

  • Chronic Lung Disease/Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD):

What it is: Babies who need oxygen for more than a month are described as having bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) or chronic lung disease. They may need oxygen and other treatments for several weeks or months.

Treatment: Babies often outgrow BPD as their lungs mature and grow, although some premature infants continue to require oxygen when they go home.

  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV):

What it is:RSV is the leading cause of lower respiratory tract illness in infants and children. Infants who get RSV may develop apnea, bronchiolitis, or long-term lung problems. Premature infants with BPD are at highest risk for complications from RSV infection.

Prevention and Treatment: RSV is very contagious. Make sure that family and friends who visit your new baby do not have colds or other infections. Ask them to wash their hands before touching your baby. There is no proven effective treatment for RSV infection. Your pediatrician may recommend medication to prevent RSV infection if your baby is at a very high risk for serious complications.

  • Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP):

What it is: ROP is an eye disease that occurs when part of the eye, called the retina, has not fully developed.

Treatment: Most cases of ROP are mild and will resolve without treatment. Severe cases of ROP are often treated with surgery.

  • Apnea and Bradycardia:

What it is: Apnea refers to pauses in your baby’s breathing that last more than 15 seconds. When apnea occurs, the heart rate will often decrease as well. This is called bradycardia.

Treatment: If your baby has apnea spells, your pediatrician may prescribe a medicine to help regulate breathing. Your baby’s heart and breathing will also be watched by monitors. Most premature babies outgrow this before they go home. If your baby does not, he may need a home apnea monitor.

  • Jaundice:

What it is: Jaundice happens because a baby’s liver has not matured enough to completely filter a yellowish substance called bilirubin from the blood. Newborns often produce more bilirubin than their livers can handle.

Treatment: Most cases can be treated effectively by placing the baby under special lights.

  • Other Health Problems:

Premature infants may also develop other conditions such as anemia of prematurity (low blood cell count) and heart murmurs. Heart murmurs are sounds that the flow of blood makes as it goes through the heart.

A Happy Homecoming

You finally get to bring your baby home. Your pediatrician will approve the discharge of your baby from the hospital, based on the following guidelines:

  • Your baby should be breathing on her own, able to maintain body temperature, able to be fed by breast or bottle, and gaining weight steadily at time of discharge.
  • Other medical problems should also be resolved, or home care should be set up before your baby leaves the hospital. When leaving the hospital, premature infants should be observed in a car seat before discharge from the hospital to see if the semi recline position adds to or causes breathing problems. Some premature babies need monitors and other equipment at home.
  • You and other caregivers will be trained on how to take care of your child’s special needs before you take him/her home. You will also be taught how to perform infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). It is recommended that healthy infants be placed on their backs to sleep. However, premature infants with certain medical problems (such as lung problems) may need to sleep on their side. Keep blankets, pillows, soft bedding, and large stuffed toys out of your baby’s crib, and make sure the room is not too cold or hot.


Information on this site is intended for Angel Kids Pediatrics patients only. Always consult your doctor before beginning, modifying, or discontinuing any treatment plan.

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