When a woman gives birth before the 37-week mark, her baby is considered a premature baby, also known as a preemie. While some babies who are born right before the 37 week mark don't need any special help or time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), many do.
A pregnancy is designed to last over 37 weeks for many reasons, such as the fact that certain organs don't finish developing until closer to the end of the pregnancy. A pregnancy is considered 40 weeks, but women who have their children between the 37 and 40 week mark tend to see that the children are fine. Anything before that is a different story.
Babies who are severely premature tend to have some more mostly minor issues than those who are just a week or so early, but there are possible issues for any child who is considered premature. Luckily, there are also amazing hospitals with top-notch NICUs and personalized care for babies who enter the world too early.
Though a child born prematurely might face certain challenges that other children don't, they will also have specialized care and grit to make it through the complicated early weeks and months. They also have parents who love them and will help them through.
Studies show that preemies are more likely to deal with the lung problem known as asthma. This condition can cause the airways in a child's lungs to become inflamed, and that makes it harder for the child to breathe. Inhalers and other treatments are often used to keep asthma in check.
Being born after the 38 week-mark is best when it comes to asthma, because any child born before that point runs a higher chance of developing asthma. Asthma can affect a person throughout life, though treatments make it easier to keep it under control now than in years past.
19 A Brave Spirit
Preemies learn to be fighters from day one. They have to beat the odds, growing and developing outside of the womb when this growth should have taken place in the insulated environment of mom's body. Because of this, they learn to fight.
Preemies may grow up to be slightly more cautious than other kids, but that doesn't mean they aren't strong. Nurses describe seeing babies whose fighting spirits can't be denied, regardless of what they have to go through. Others are often inspired by everything they see their preemies survive, and this experience is one they can draw strength and encouragement from for the rest of their lives.
18 Early Birthdays
Mom may have her sights set on her baby's 40-week due date as the birthday, but preemies end up with early birthdays that may not even be in the season they were originally scheduled to be. A fall baby may be born in summer, and babies who are born during the second trimester shave a full three months off of their gestation time.
Mom won't have to be pregnant for as long, but that doesn't make an early birthday easy. Many of those days after birth for preemies are spent in the hospital receiving care so growth and development will be taken care of.
17 Issues With Vision
Eye problems are another thing that doctors look out for when a child is born prematurely. Retinopathy of prematurity, also known as ROP, is one of the most common problems preemie babies face. ROP occurs due to abnormal vessel growth in the eyes because a baby who is premature may not have finished this process in the womb.
ROP can lead to vision loss if retinal detachment occurs. It can lead to less severe issues, such as being near-sighted or having an astigmatism. A child who is born early will likely see an eye doctor very early on and go in for checkups regularly to track progress and try to detect problems early.
16 Superhero Parents
Parents don't choose to go through having a child born early. It's a challenge that puts a strain on both parents and can make their relationship more difficult due to the ongoing stress. However, parents of preemies throw on their capes and get things done for their little ones, becoming rock star parents in the process.
From letting go of expectations to rushing to the hospital for visiting hours, being a preemie parents is full of emotional and physical tolls. Parents who go through having a child born too early learn fast to value every second and to do anything for their child's needs.
15 Trouble With Hearing
Hearing loss is a possibility for any baby, and that's why most children are given a hearing test a day or so after birth. However, a baby who is born too early is much more likely to have hearing loss, though researchers don't always agree on why that is.
If a child is born super early, such as before the third trimester, hearing function may not be fully developed, leading to issues. For children who are born early but still make it to the third trimester, some researchers are blaming the antibiotics preemies are put on to help them fight infections they might catch due to early birth. Both may play a role, and kids born prematurely will have their hearing checked to see what the effects of all of this are for them.
14 Very Specialized Care
There are definite challenges when a child is born too early, but we are fortunate to live in the times that we do when it comes to prenatal care. Nurses and doctors who specialize in NICU care will dedicate themselves to preemies, and the baby will have personalized, specialized care throughout their NICU journey.
Parents often end up feeling like the NICU staff who helped take care of their child is like family. NICU nurses know what's at stake, and they know what works for the tiniest of babies. They will keep mom and dad informed, keep the baby comfortable, and do everything they can to forge a bond with the premature baby, making sure he or she feels the love from day one.
13 Dental Problems
Even a child's teeth can be affected if they are born too early. A child born prematurely is more likely to have delays in teeth coming in, and though that will push back the pain of teething, it's still difficult when it comes time for kids to eat hardier foods.
Tooth discoloration and a lack of enamel coating the outside of the teeth are also issues for preemies. A palatal groove at the top of the mouth is also a possible issue for premature babies who have to be intubated. Intubation is often necessary, but it may lead to some dental issues down the road.
12 More Likely to Be Petite
It makes sense that missing out on weeks of growth in the womb will have an effect on a child's size outside of the womb. Premature babies are born smaller and may take a while to catch up with their peers.
Some babies catch up in height and size within the first year, but other studies show it may take as long as adolescence for preemies to grow to the size of other kids their age. There's also the fact that people are different, and some kids are just smaller than other kids throughout life. Mom and dad should definitely expect people to guess their preemie is younger than he actually is for a while due to size.
11 Reunions With Their Crew
NICU reunions are something that many parents look forward to once their babies leave the care of the unit. After a child grows and develops enough to leave the NICU and the hospital, parents and babies still often feel a bond to the staff who was there to hold them during their tough times. Luckily, these relationships don't have to end when the baby goes home.
Year after year, NICU units hold reunions where former preemies can come and hang out. It's a time to see how much they have changed and grown and to celebrate everyone who helped them get through those early days.
10 Self-Esteem Issues
A study showed that young adults who had been born early were less likely to find themselves attractive. In fact, some even struggled with close relationships. This made many researchers draw the conclusion that kids who were born prematurely grew to be young people with less confidence.
However, this is complicated for a lot of reasons. It's true that preemies tend to grow to be more cautious, and this may affect their social interactions. This doesn't always have to be a bad thing though, and it may be more of a personality trait than an issue with self-esteem or confidence. Preemies can still grow to have full social lives and love themselves.
9 NICU Time
It's not ideal to have a baby make an arrival before the 37-week mark, but there are people who can help. Nurses and doctors who take care of babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) are trained to offer babies specialized care as they transition to life outside of the womb. Though mom and dad may not love being separated from their child at times while he stays in the NICU, it's the best place a premature baby can be.
NICU stays can last from hours to months, and a baby will not be released from this special unit until hitting necessary milestones to ensure a better chance at life outside of the NICU. NICU workers care deeply about the babies they care for and the parents who love them.
8 Slight Digestive Issues
There is a chance that a baby born prematurely will have issues with digestion and food absorption, either early on or later down the road. Surgery may be necessary to correct the problem, but there are also times when these issues resolve themselves or don't occur at all.
Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) makes it hard for a baby's intestines to do the work of breaking down and digesting food. Digestion is obviously an important part of growing and surviving, so doctors and nurses will be on the lookout for any problems that the baby may be having in the GI department.
7 Slight Developmental Delays
Parents can't expect babies who were born early to hit developmental or physical milestones at the same rate as babies who stayed in the womb until term. Premature babies may not hit milestone markers at the same rate, and that's okay. An experienced pediatrician will work with mom and dad to assess a preemie's new normal and make sure he or she is growing at the rate that is right considering their birth experience.
Parents shouldn't be alarmed at delays. Simply bring them up with the doctor and work through each situation. A child not developing a skill at a certain time doesn't mean he won't every develop it.
6 Trouble With Breastfeeding
Premature babies can absolutely use the benefits of breastmilk to help their immune systems and encourage growth. Unfortunately, breastfeeding a preemie is not always easy. Depending on how early the baby was born, mom may have to pump milk and have it administered via a feeding tube. Hopefully, enough milk will come in for mom to be able to do this if she chooses.
Even when a child can attempt to nurse on her own, it doesn't always go well. The sucking reflex may not be developed enough for the baby to get milk, and other developmental issues can make breastfeeding difficult or impossible.
Recent studies show that babies born between the 22-33 week mark are more likely to deal with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and ADHD than children born later. The connection was especially strong among preschool aged girls, and assessments were taken when kids were in pre-school and around the age of eight.
Many children are diagnosed with ADHD and ADD each year, whether they were born prematurely or not. There are many ways to deal with this condition, including therapy, medication, and other techniques. More is known about ways to lessen the symptoms of the condition, and kids who are diagnosed will be in good company with many others, especially in the United States.
The story on how anxiety and premature birth are connected is no longer as simple as it once seemed. The old view was that any child who was born prematurely was more likely to struggle with mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Very recent studies seem to contradict that finding.
The later studies are larger and seem to show that children who are born prematurely run the same chance of developing anxiety as any other child. Because the findings aren't consistent, it's a good idea to deal with a child's concerns seriously and look out for signs of anxiety early on. This way if a child is anxious, mom and dad can step in early to help.
3 Slower Learning
It's possible that the developmental delays that occurred earlier in a preemie's life will result in the child lagging behind in learning when school starts. Children who are preemies are more likely to deal with learning impairments, whether major or minor. This can affect a child's self-confidence and cause them to make lower grades than their peers who were born full-term.
Not every child has these problems, but those who do may need extra tutoring or accommodations in school. Parents will need to work with them to keep their spirits up and make sure they are receiving the assistance they need to excel.
2 Certain Health Problems
Sometimes preemies don't have a lot of health problems, and other times they seem to be plagued with issues throughout life. Being a preemie does put a child at a higher chance for long-term problems, such as chronic issues with sight, hearing, or behavioral issues.
The good news is that some issues a preemie has while a baby take care of themselves or are dealt with while the child is young. Others can be managed throughout life without any major inconvenience to the child. The medical community has come a long way in helping children who are born early not only live but thrive throughout life.
1 Heart Issues
A long-term issue to look out for is heart issues that can lead to health problems when a preemie child grows to an adult. These connections were found a few years back, and it seems that being born early may lead a child to have higher blood pressure as an adult.
The good news is that medication and lifestyle choices may help bring it down, so if a premature child knows they may face this, they can be monitored throughout life to stop problems before they start.
Sources: Motherly.com, Parents.com, Babycenter.com, Healthyday.com, Marchofdimes.org. Mayoclinic.org, AttitudeMag.com, Forbes.com