Babies that are delivered early can face lots of problems. Usually preemies stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the hospital until they are well enough to go home.
* Apnea of Prematurity – This is a type of apnea where the baby’s breathing may stop suddenly and without reason. This can happen when babies are born before 34 weeks and their lungs are not developed yet. The heart rate also slows down when this happens. Help is needed to start the breathing process again.
* Jaundice – This phenomenon can occur in any child, but the chances are greater in children who are premature. The yellowing comes from an excess of bilirubin, produced by red blood cells. The liver is not developed enough to filter out the bilirubin so the levels rise too high. This can even lead to brain damage.
* Patent ductus arteriosis – While in the womb, there is a different circulatory pathway for baby’s blood to connect with the placenta and get rid of waste products in the mother’s system. At birth this opening between the major vessels closes and normal circulation through the heart and lungs begins. In premature babies, sometimes this area remains opened, resulting in faulty circulation. Surgical procedures may be required to close the opening if it can’t close on its own.
* Respiratory distress syndrome – The lungs are the last organ to mature before birth. Mature lungs develop a surfactant or protective substance over the lung surface so that they can inflate properly. Preemies do not have this surfactant so they have trouble inflating their lungs to their full capacity. Over time, the surfactant may develop as baby matures, but sometimes artificial surfactant must be used to keep from compromising baby’s respirations.
* Sepsis – This is a condition of bacteria in the bloodstream which can lead to severe illness. For preemies, there are a lot of IVs and other medications that are delivered into their bodies through the skin. Any opening in the skin can become a potential cause of infection. If septicemia is present, baby will have a fever and may develop a swollen belly.
* GERD – Gastric reflux can be a problem for babies born prematurely. Because they can’t hold food down, they may vomit and lose weight. Medication can be administered to treat the GERD.
* Retinopathy of prematurity – Babies can be born with problems with their eyes. It can result in retinal detachments that can be treated with cryotherapy.