What to expect when your baby is born prematurely

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Thanks to modern medical advancements, many premature babies grow up into healthy, happy children. With proper care, even children born before 28 weeks have a significant chance of survival.

A premature birth still brings with it a host of complications though. Here is what you should expect and how best to cope.

What causes a premature birth?

Although premature births can occur on their own, a number of factors can increase their likelihood. The use of cigarettes, alcohol or any illicit drugs during pregnancy can dramatically increase the odds, as can a low Body Mass Index (BMI) or failure to gain enough weight during pregnancy. Some existing medical conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure or an infection of the lower genital tract can also have a significant effect. You may also wish to consult with a doctor if you have had multiple abortions or miscarriages, or if your last child was born prematurely.

When exactly is a birth premature?

Any birth that takes place before 37 weeks is technically premature. The earlier a baby is born and the less time it has to develop in the womb, the higher the odds are of complications.

Look out for immediate complications

Those first few weeks of life can be a challenging time for both a premature infant and their family. Immediate complications after birth include respiratory problems, either from a lack of surfactant (a substance necessary for the lungs to expand properly), apnea (extended pauses while breathing) or bronchopulmonary dysplasia (a chronic lung disease). Some premature babies may suffer from heart problems such as Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA), an opening between two blood vessels connected to the heart. Poor temperature control, due to a lack of body fat; blood conditions such as infant jaundice and anemia; metabolism problems including hypoglycemia; gastrointestinal problems such as Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC); and immune system problems are all equally possible. Finally, very premature babies are at a higher risk of intraventricular hemorrhage, or bleeding in the brain and Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)
, which can cause permanent damage in some cases.

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As a result, it’s important to keep a new infant under close observation in a Neonatal-Intensive Care Unit (NICU) until the doctors feel that they are ready to be released. This is a critical stage where a wrong decision can have a very serious impact. Become informed about the risks your baby may be facing. Do not be afraid to ask questions if something seems wrong to you or if your baby seems listless or is refusing to eat while in the NICU.

Remember also that, as frightening as some of the above information might sound, medical teams today are far, far better equipped to deal with these situations than in the past.

Understand that there may also be long-term complications

Depending on how prematurely a baby is born, they may be at risk for significant complications down the line as well. From relatively ordinary difficulties such as asthma and learning disabilities such as ADHD, to serious conditions such as cerebral palsy and impaired vision or hearing, premature babies carry quite a few risks. Many of these are surmountable and can be worked with, but it’s important to discuss the risks with your doctor and think of coping strategies in advance.


  1. Mayo Clinic: Diseases and Conditions – Premature birth. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/premature-birth/basics/definition/con-20020050. Accessed on February 1, 2015.

Photo Credit: EtanSivad via Compfight cc


Expecting Expats is the online resource for parents in and around Thailand.

We provide lifestyle and medical content to our visitors, with new content posted daily. Our lifestyle contributors are themselves expat moms who share their experiences and lessons learned through blog articles. We also provide medical content from our partner doctors at Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. Articles of interest span from before pregnancy through the toddler years and cover medical, behavioral and cognitive issues.

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