Margo Roberts, RN, is at Cardon Children's Medical Center.
Question: If a baby is born premature, can it live a healthy life?
Answer: Babies born premature these days have a much better chance of surviving and thriving than just five years ago, thanks to new medicine and growing support for the creation of Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs).
At Cardon Children's Medical Center, our NICU cares for more than 1,000 babies per year. Some of these babies stay in the hospital for as long as six months before gaining the skills and strength needed to be sent home.
At birth, a baby is classified as premature if it is born before 37 weeks of gestation and at a very low birth weight, less than 5.5 lbs. Prematurity is the number one killer of newborn babies in the United States and there is no single known cause, but there are some risk factors that are typical to a premature birth.
Mothers with a history of diabetes, infection, smoking, poor nutrition, illegal drug use, high blood pressure, and multiple births (twins or more) are much more likely to have premature delivery. However, there are many times when there is no clear reason a baby is born early.
One of the most important steps to preventing prematurity is to receive prenatal care as early as possible in the pregnancy, and to continue such care until the baby is born. Statistics clearly show that early and good prenatal care reduces your chance of premature birth and related deaths.
Once the baby is born, physicians and nurses will determine what special needs the child has. Premature infants typically have a higher risk of respiratory problems, issues with absent breathing or apnea, can have poor feeding interest and often have thin, almost translucent skin and body hair. Some of these medical problems can continue into childhood and may cause permanent changes in growth and development.
It is impossible to truly predict long-term outcomes based on gestational age or birth weight; therefore, it is important that parents stay active in their babies care and work with the medical professionals in the NICU. Some babies will require specialists and therapies after discharge to promote their development and growth. The goal of the NICU is to “graduate” each baby so they can go home and take their place in the family.