World Prematurity Day: Can premature babies have a normal life?
World Prematurity Day is observed on March 17 every year to raise awareness about premature birth and its effects. One-fifth of the total 15 million preterm births occur in India. There is no question that India has a need for neonatal critical care facilities given that prematurity is the leading cause of death in children under the age of 5.
Any baby born before 37 weeks of gestation can be considered a preterm or premature baby. Depending on the risk factors and several other factors, doctors might consider delivering the baby through a caesarian section or normal delivery. The lesser the weeks of the baby, more are the chances of a C-section, which is often followed by complications.
Complications of premature birth
Apart from that, babies face several issues due to premature birth. The organs do not develop in the body, which puts them at risk of several problems.
Most commonly babies land up with breathing issues, commonly called respiratory distress requiring various kinds of artificial respiratory support. Several cardiac conditions like holes in the heart, and raised pressures in the lungs and heart affect these kids. Regulation of blood pressure and heart on their own is hampered. They are at a higher risk of food intolerance, poor gut health, elevated jaundice levels, bleeding in the brain, and lungs, seizures or fits. The more severe complication that they develop is infections. They are at huge risk of death resulting from infections, mandating using of several antibiotics.
Long-term complications like stunted growth, obesity, allergic tendencies, poor immunity, and neurocognitive and developmental problems are common in some premature babies. Infants who are delivered very early may experience trauma during medical procedures, which could alter the way their brains develop.
Are there any treatments available?
Thanks to the advancements in technology and diagnosis, doctors are able to dial down the risk of outcomes in premature babies. Better and early diagnostic techniques in the scans for mothers have improved delivery dating allowing doctors to postpone the deliveries as much as possible. Several modalities post-delivery are available for managing such babies. Skilled personnel are needed during the resuscitation of such babies. Newer, gentler and non-invasive ventilation strategies have improved their outcomes. Anti-infection protocols followed strictly can prevent severe infections.
What can be done to take care of a premature baby?
Prevention is better than cure. Here are some strategies that may be of help to people taking care of premature babies.
- Encouraging breast milk instead of top milk is one of the most effective strategies to solve gut issues.
- Mothers should be counselled regarding risk factors individually for premature deliveries.
- Supplements prescribed by doctors should be taken at the right time.
- A healthy diet is essential for expecting mothers and goes a long way in solving premature deliveries due to poor nutrition.
- Several other aspects, such as preventing maternal infections, increasing the space between pregnancies, and proper antenatal check-ups can help prevent premature deliveries.
- Once a premature delivery is expected, deliveries should take place in a set-up with level 2 or level 3 ICU care. Planned delivery improves outcomes where obstetricians and paediatricians/neonatologists can team up for better outcomes.
- Such babies might require respiratory support, blood pressure medications, intravenous fluids, and injectable antibiotics.
- Aseptic precautions with thorough handwashing may help prevent infections in such babies. The multimodal approach of treatment is the best mode of treatment.
Be careful with your premature baby!
Whatever your situation, your baby’s life will not begin the way you had hoped. It can drain you – both physically and emotionally to care for a premature baby. You might worry about the long-term effects of premature birth and your baby’s health. You might feel overwhelmed, remorseful, or furious but know that there are good chances for your baby to reach home healthy. Just have the patience and perseverance to go through it one step at a time. However, it will take a long time to get these tiny angels healthy to face the harsh world waiting around!