Premature Babies and Common Health Problems


Premature babies have a higher possibility of getting complications than full-time ones. They are born before being ready to leave the womb so they often have health problems. Babies born before the 32nd to 34th week can have a number of health conditions, varying from mild to severe. Here are some of the most common conditions premature infants are likely to get:


Premature infants are often anemic due to the lack of red blood cells. Normally, iron is stored during the later months of pregnancy and is used to make red blood cells after delivery. Babies born too soon may not have had enough time to stock up enough iron.
Babies with anemia have difficulties in feeding and growing. It also can intensify any heart or breathing problems. Anemic babies may be treated with dietary iron supplements, drugs used to raise the red blood cell production, or, in serious cases, blood transfusion.


Occasionally, preterm babies stop breathing for 15 seconds or more. This pause in breathing is called apnea, and it may be accompanied by slow heart rates.
Premature babies are constantly supervised for apnea. If the babies discontinue to breath, the nurses will help the babies to begin breathing by patting them or touching the soles of their feet.

Chronic lung disease

Chronic lung disease (bronchopulmonary dysplasia or BPD) most commonly influences premature babies who need ongoing treatment with supplemental oxygen. Babies who are put at risk of BPD have severe respiratory distress syndrome (RDS)
Fluid in the lungs, scarring, and lung damage can be seen on an X-ray. Medications will help them breathe more easily and wean them from the ventilator. Their lungs will recover over the first two years of life. However, many children may get chronic lung disease that is related to asthma.


Premature babies have an undeveloped immune system that cannot defense the bacteria, viruses, and other organisms causing infections. They are more likely to get the lung infections, blood infections, and meningitis. Babies can be transferred these infections at birth from their mothers, or they may get infected after delivery. Treatments for the infections are antibiotics or antiviral drugs.

Intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH)

Intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH) – or bleeding in the brain – happens in some preterm babies who weigh about 1,36 kg or less. The bleeds frequently take place in the first three days of life and generally can be diagnosed with an ultrasound examination. In such cases, doctors may implant a tube into the brain to drain the fluid and decrease the risk of brain damage. In milder cases, drugs sometimes may help reduce fluid buildups.


Preterm infants get jaundice as their liver is too immature to eliminate bilirubin (a waste product) from the blood. Infants will have a yellowish color to their skin and eyes. Jaundice often is minor and is not too serious. However, if the bilirubin level gets too high, it can damage the brain.
Blood tests can identify the levels of bilirubin so the baby can be treated with special lights (phototherapy) helping the body remove bilirubin. A baby sometimes may require a blood transfusion.

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) can be identified with imaging tests, such as X-rays and blood tests. Infants are cured with antibiotics and fed through a vein (intravenously) while the bowel gets healing. In some cases, surgery is necessary to eliminate damaged sections of the intestine.

Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)

PDA is a heart problem that can be diagnosed with a specialized form of ultrasound (echocardiography) or other imaging tests. The treatment is a drug helping close the ductus, although surgery may be required if the drug doesn’t work.

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS)

RDS is a disorder in breathing associated with the baby’s undeveloped lungs. As the lungs of preterm babies often lack surfactants that prevent small air sacs in the lungs from collapsing. Artificial surfactants can the treatment for RDS. These will be used along with a ventilator to help them breathe better and supply adequate oxygen levels in their blood. Sometimes, extremely preterm babies may require long-term oxygen treatment and may go home on supportive oxygen therapy.

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is an abnormal development of blood vessels in the eye that can cause loss of vision. Babies born before the 30th week of pregnancy are more likely to get ROP. Doctors can diagnose it during an eye examination. Most cases are not too serious and heal themselves with little or no vision loss. In more severe cases, doctors may cure the abnormal vessels with a laser or by freezing them (cryotherapy) to protect the retina and preserve vision.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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