Discuss the potential outcomes for children who are born preterm or with a low birth weight.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When babies are born prematurely every week that they have been in the womb makes a difference. Other factors such as weight, and lung development and ability to breath are crucial. Research has shown that

Less than 25 percent of babies born at 23 weeks survive, about 50 percent of babies born at 24 weeks survive, and nearly 92 percent of those born at 29 weeks will survive.

If a mother knows in time that her baby will be premature the woman's doctor can give her an injection of corticosteroids 48 hours ahead of time; this injection will help the lungs mature some before delivery. With the advancements in medicine and special neonatal intensive care facilities and neonatal doctors premature babies are given much better chances. 

Of course, babies who are born prematurely and babies whose weight is low at birth run risks. They may develop several conditions, depending upon how premature they are. Here are some:

  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS): Because of the immaturity of the lungs, many premature babies have difficulty breathing.
  • Anemia: lack of red blood cells that provide enough oxygen to the the baby 
  • Apnea: irregular breathing pattern.
  • Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD): inability to be weaned off the ventilator, thereby needing further medication and oxygen.
  • Patent Ductus Arteriosus: the remaining open of a blood vessel that normally closes at birth. This open vessel can cause breathing problems and sometimes heart problems.
  • Infection: with an underdeveloped immune system, the premature baby does not have the necessary antibodies to fight off infection.
  • Retinopathy of Prematurity: Incomplete growth of the vessels in the retina of the eye occurs in babies 24-26 weeks and rarely in those 33-34 weeks and after.
  • Low Blood Pressure: If the blood does not circulate properly, this can be treated with increased fluids and medication. Sometimes a blood transfusion may be needed.
  • Anemia and Infant Jaundis: Sometimes enough red blood cells have not been yet formed in prematures.
  • Necrotizing Enterocolitis: Poor blood flow in the intestines of the baby may lead to an infection in the wall of the intestine or bowel.
  • Intracranial Hemorrhage:  Bleeding inside the brain can occur, but is more likely in babies born at 24-26 weeks.
  • Metabolism problems: Because premature babies have a lower store of glucose that full-term babies, they may develop an abnormally low level of blood-sugar.

Premature babies are put in incubators in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) and often are fed intravenously through a vein and then through the nose to the stomach. Once the premature babies mature enough, breast milk which contains antibodies and proteins encourage healthy growth. Nevertheless, despite all advancements in science that offer much improved treatment, some babies who are born prematurely experience some development problems in their early childhood.