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Premature - also known as preterm birth - means that the baby is born before week 37. A premature birth comes with typical appearance and possible unpleasant consequences. The earlier the birth, the greater the risk of serious complications. A team of specialists is ready to give the best care to a premature baby. The baby is closely monitored while in hospital and also when he or she is allowed to go home. In this blog we will tell you all about premature birth and what this means for the baby.

What's premature?

The average pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. Children born prematurely are born before week 37. During the first few weeks of pregnancy all of your baby's organs are formed, and in the weeks thereafter they continue to grow and mature. If the baby is born prematurely, this has consequences for the development of the organ system. The rule is: the earlier the birth, the greater the risk of developmental delay. So not all babies born prematurely suffer from all complications and possible developmental delays.  

You often see that the coordination of sucking, swallowing and breathing of a premature baby is immature. For this reason, the baby must remain under supervision in the hospital until the due date. But if everything goes well, he or she can go home with the parents sooner.

Causes of premature delivery

There are several reasons why a baby is born premature. The cause can be the mother, the baby or the uterus. Often the main cause of the premature birth is unknown. 

Factors mother 
Cervical abnormalities, pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure, infections, illnesses, the use of drugs or alcohol and poor social and economic conditions can have an effect on preterm birth. 

Factors baby 
A multiple pregnancy, a congenital defect or an infection can trigger a premature birth. 

Factors uterus 
Abnormalities in the baby's safe haven can cause it to be born prematurely. These include an infection, the detachment of the placenta, a preterm placenta and premature rupture of the membranes.

Treatment

The treatment of every premature baby is different and depends on different factors. Such as the length of the pregnancy, the weight of the baby and possible complications. The babies are monitored by a team of (pediatric) doctors, neonatologists and nurses. They determine the care that the baby needs and teach your baby how to drink and keep his temperature up. They also take into account that the parents and the child need each other's presence. There is enough room for this. The team of specialists is present for all questions and uncertainties. Finally, they also prepare the parents for the moment when they can go home together.

Nutrition

Many premature babies cannot drink on their own because the coordination of breathing, sucking and swallowing has not yet developed sufficiently. The same rule applies here: the earlier the birth, the greater the complications. Until your baby can drink breast or bottle milk on its own, it will be fed via a gavage. Do not worry, the nurses will guide you through this (St. Antonius Hospital, 2021). 

Physical characteristics of a premature baby

Because the baby has not had the complete womb experience, your premature baby may look just a little different than full-term babies. External features of premature babies may include:

  • Large head compared to the body 
  • Low weight 
  • Thin, red and fragile skin
  • Downy hair 
  • Cartilage is soft 
  • The external genitalia are not yet fully developed. In boys, the testicles are often not descended and in girls, the large labia are not yet over the small ones.

Consequences premature delivery

Besides the complications mentioned above, a premature baby has more chance of developmental delays. Memory problems, learning and behavioral problems, speech and language delays, problems with social contacts and physical coordination and a reduced ability to solve problems can be consequences of a premature birth. It is striking that the earlier the birth, the greater the risk of a delay. So this need not apply to every premature born child (Gezondheidsplein, 2017).

Finally home. Now what? 

If, around the due date, the baby no longer needs to be monitored, can keep himself warm outside the incubator and can drink on his own, he can go home. You would think that this is a reason for celebration, but this moment also provides plenty of reasons for tension. The parents will have to get used to the idea that their vulnerable baby is at home instead of being monitored in hospital. The parents and the baby will carry with them anxiety and uncertainty, so take some time to get used to it. It can be helpful to talk to someone who has been through this (Diakonessenhuis, s.d.). For you and for the little one, a premature birth has a lot of impact. And do not forget: you do not have to do everything alone!

Sources:

Diakonessenhuis. (s.d.). Diakonessenhuis. Consulted on July 12, 2021, from https://www.diakonessenhuis.nl/folders/opname-uw-vroeg-geboren-baby

 Health Square. (2017, July 18). Medical problems with preterm birth. Dossier Premature babies | Gezondheidsplein.nl. https://www.gezondheidsplein.nl/dossiers/te-vroeg-prematuur-geboren-babys/medische-problemen-bij-vroeggeboorte/item44036

St. Antonius Hospital. (2021, April 26). Premature birth (prematurity)https://www.antoniusziekenhuis.nl/te-vroeg-geboren-kindje-prematuriteit#:%7E:text=Kinderen%20die%20v%C3%B3%C3%B3r%20een%20zwangerschapsduur,nog%20verder%20groeien%20en%20uitrijpen.

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