Premature babies typically need to stay in the hospital longer and/or have more medical issues than full term babies. Neonatal intensive care units nurture and treat premature babies until they are big enough and strong enough to survive on their own, outside of the hospital. The earlier a baby is born, the more health risks they stand against. Respiratory, vision, and gastrointestinal issues are very common. These are systems that mature later in pregnancy. While developing early, cardiac issues are also prevalent. Premature babies are at much higher risk for infections due to immature immune systems. They often cannot regulate their own body temperature (because of thin skin and heat loss) or exert any energy that isn’t mandatory. Preemies exert so much energy doing “life stabilizing” functions that many activities are delayed. These often include opening of the eyes, circulating medications efficiently, or breathing enough oxygen to keep healthy levels (as opposed to enough to live).
These health issues can pose long term concerns. Many premature babies mature to live “normal” childhood lives....... whatever NORMAL is....... Mothers and fathers of preemies have grieved the loss of the “normal” dream right along with managing the hardships of the “new normal.” Cerebral palsy and chronic respiratory conditions are common life long concerns. I say “common” only because a larger “smaller handful” of preemies continue with these conditions. Preemie prognoses are so varied that it is hard to say anything is “common.”
Babies can be born prematurely for many reasons. Some are pregnancy related, some lifestyle induced, others are maternal or fetal troubles...... and some just show up early for unknown reasons. This makes researching, treating, and managing these issues so difficult.
Like any preemie’s story, Ian’s is unique. Ian appears as though nothing is wrong to most passersby. He is smiling, laughing, playing, and has nothing to throw off the “un-preem-ied mind.” However, when you dig a little deeper, you can begin to see the internal struggles of a preemie. Between chronic lung, gastrointestinal, and immunological compromises, Ian is a miriad of complexities. While his overall prognosis is optimistic, some of his current issues will be lifelong concerns.
Most preemies are happy babies and children. They are thankful for each day. It is both a comfort and a source of sadness for parents when preemies are happy simply because they don’t know any different. While we are joyed they feel happy for this reason, it is disheartening that this is what they know as “normal.” Relating back to the “normal” theory again. Despite whatever “normal” may be, they are couragious miracles.
The March of Dimes Foundation functions to help mothers reach full term pregnancies. They are a large advocate for research. Below is an excellent, but incomplete, list of preemie resources including statistics and research.
March of Dimes 2011 United States Report Card
Your Premature Baby