If a pregnancy lasts less than 37 weeks then the baby born is a premature infant. A full term baby is born anywhere between 38 and 42 weeks.
Many reasons are advocated for the birth of premature infants. It is mostly attributed to the mother’s lifestyle during pregnancy. If the mother indulges in smoking, drinking, not gaining enough weight, using drugs, not getting enough prenatal care and is exposed to a lot of physical stress then the chances of the baby being born premature is very likely.
However there are cases when the reasons for preterm delivery are not in the mother’s control. Preterm delivery could also occur if the mother has a hormone imbalance, a chronic illness, is carrying multiples, an infection , is over the age of 35 years or under 19 years of age. Then there are unknown causes as well.
Due to huge advances in medical science a baby born with a low birth weight of 800 grams can survive. The essential needs for preemies are warmth, since they lack the necessary body fat so incubators or radiant warmers are used to keep the babies warm. They have special nutritional needs. Mother’s milk is the best source but preemies might be too immature to be fed directly from the breast or bottle.
They have to be fed slowly so as to prevent the intestinal infection, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), unique to premature babies. Breast milk can be pumped and fed to the baby with the help of a tube that goes from the baby’s mouth into the stomach. Additional fortifiers are added to the milk.
These special needs after delivery are taken care of in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Here the infant’s basic needs of warmth, nutrition and protection are met to assure proper growth and development of the baby.
After the baby is released from the NICU it still needs a lot of special care. In addition to the regular trips to the doctor for periodic examinations and immunizations, preemies have to visit for periodic hearing and eye examinations.
Special attention need to be given to the development of the nervous system, speech and behavior. Taking care of a premature baby is more demanding than taking care of a full term one.