Babies are considered to be premature or pre-term when they are born before 37 weeks. The causes of premature births vary, though moms with multiples are more likely to give birth to premature babies. There are of course several other reasons that lead to the premature birth of babies, and these include hypertension, smoking or the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy, infection, preeclampsia, the mother’s height and weight, using fertility medication, heart complications, diabetes and thyroid conditions. There is not just one cause that results in a baby being premature. Of course the closer the baby is to term, the better!
Once the baby has been born, the hospital will care for the infant in a neonatal intensive care ward and an incubator is used to recreate a womb environment. Staff will provide 24-hour care for the infant until the day the baby is ready to be discharged.
The differences between a prem and full term baby
- The most obvious difference will be the baby’s birth weight. An average full term baby will weigh between 2.3kgs to 4kgs, while premmies often weigh far below the 2kg mark.
- Prem babies will always be cared for in the neonatal ICU, as in most cases the baby’s lungs are not fully developed and will require care, support and medication to strengthen their lungs.
- Typically, moms will be discharged without their babies and for these moms the separation from their newborn infants can be hard to bear. South Africa has a support group for moms with prems on Facebook (Little Moms with Prems). This group gives moms a platform to voice their concerns and fears and share their stories with other parents in the same situation.
- Once discharged, prems will require more check-ups than full term babies and parents may also find it wise to seek a paediatrician who specialises in the care of pre-term babies.
- Premature infants are unable to maintain their iron stores and as such, it is critical that iron supplements are given right after birth, along with other medications and multivitamins.
- Although difficult at first, moms should persevere with breastfeeding. Breast milk contains all the necessary ingredients to help baby’s gain weight and to boost their immune system. Usually premmies have an underdeveloped sucking reflex, however with perseverance, moms and breastfeed their pre-term babies.
- Parents need to remember that premature babies reach their milestones later than full term baby and they should at no time compare their premmies with full term babies. Eventually the premmy will catch up; however there may be some instances when problem areas are only noticed later in life.