Eyes on Preemies

Understanding the needs of late preterm infants.

Many expectant parents are unaware that their bundle of joy could arrive too early, according to a recent survey-based study. Of those surveyed, the highest percentage of expecting parents revealed they don’t hear about or discuss preterm birth with their doctors during prenatal care, even if the moms-to-be are at high risk. This means that there are a great number of parents who don’t understand exactly how premature birth may affect their infants. In addition, some parents may not know that all babies born early are at risk for health complications.
This is particularly important for parents whose babies arrive just a few weeks early, many of which look healthy. When talking about prematurity, most parents think that unless a child was born extremely early, before 32 weeks gestation, they should not be concerned with the risk factors associated with prematurity. However, according to a recent study published in Pediatrics, late preterm infants— those born between 34 and 36 weeks gestational age— are at increased risk for poor health-related outcomes in addition to a significantly higher healthcare cost during their first year compared to full-term infants.

The reality is that most premature babies born between 34 and 36 weeks gestation fall into this category. Therefore, it’s essential that expecting parents collaborate with their doctors to ensure parents are educated about preterm birth and understand the special medical needs of babies born early.

Understanding Preterm Birth

Premature infants have specialized health needs because their early arrival means their development is disrupted. This leaves preterm infants more susceptible to a variety of problems as newborns, such as jaundice and difficulties with breathing, feeding and maintaining their temperature. There have also been studies showing that premature birth leads to long-term health ailments throughout life.

The lungs of infants born before 35 weeks gestational age are less developed than in infants born at full term. Even a baby born beyond 35 weeks can have respiratory problems associated with immature lung development.

Preterm babies, including infants born a few weeks early, are also more vulnerable to seasonal infections like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). A common virus during the fall and winter months, RSV is the leading cause of infant hospitalization. An estimated 125,000 babies in the United States are hospitalized with severe RSV each year. Though mild in most children, it can be more serious among premature infants.

RSV usually causes symptoms that mimic a cold, including a runny nose or a low fever, and the symptoms generally run their course. Parents of premature babies need to be particularly aware of potential signs of more severe RSV symptoms, like difficulty breathing, wheezing, having rapid or gasping breath, difficulty feeding and being listless. Parents should consult a medical care provider if their baby is exhibiting these symptoms.

An effective way to prevent the spread of RSV, and other common viruses that may affect your infant, is good hand washing habits. People who come in contact with your child should wash their hands thoroughly. Washing toys and other objects that your baby comes in contact with and avoiding people with colds and unnecessary exposure to crowds may also help reduce the chances of your baby being exposed to seasonal viruses.

One of the most effective prevention methods is early and consistent communication with a medical care provider and routine follow-up visits once your preemie is born. These are important for the health of every child, regardless of how early a baby is born. For additional information, visit www.rsvprotection.com.