What to Know about Premature Infants

November 12, 2012

What to Know about Premature Infants

Babies born more than a month before the determined due date are considered premature infants. These infants can suffer from a variety of problems if not treated properly.

Premature infants are those children which are born before the 37 week mark. While it is not an ideal situation, infants normally survive if born after at least the 28th week. Any baby that does not make it full term is at risk for problems so it is important to do everything possible to avoid a premature pregnancy. To increase the chance of making it full term, mothers should be in good health before and throughout pregnancy, get prenatal care, and visit a healthcare professional on a regular basis to check the status of the pregnancy. Unfortunately, premature births cannot always be avoided.

Causes of Early Births

The cause of early labor is sometimes unknown. In some situations, doctors may be on the lookout for a pregnancy complication. There is a multitude of conditions, illnesses, and events which can result in premature infants.

  • Up to 15% of early labor results from a mother carrying multiple infants

  • Chronic health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and kidney failure

  • Mother not having access to regular prenatal care

  • Smoking

  • Use of drugs or alcohol

  • Ethnicity

  • Low socioeconomic status

  • Poor nutrition

Some pregnancy complications that can cause preterm labor include:

  • Cervical incompetence

  • History of early births

  • Early rupture of the placenta

  • Infection

  • Congenital defects present in the uterus

Effects on the Baby

Premature infants are at risk for having greater health problems than a full term baby. The effects of being born early can range from slight to severe depending on the development of the infant. Some problems associated with preterm delivery are:

  • Bleeding or damage in the brain

  • Hypoglycemia

  • Lung problems including issues with breathing and pneumonia

  • Jaundice

  • Anemia

  • Infections

  • Necrotizing enterocolitis

  • Respiratory distress syndrome

Even if babies are born without any apparent problems, there are often signs of the prematurity:

  • Breathing is abnormal

  • A decrease in normal amount of body fat

  • May be less active and have less muscle

  • Ear cartilage may be very soft

  • Transparent skin

  • The presence of body hair


In some cases, premature labors can be delayed with the used of medications. The goal is to stop the contractions in hopes of stopping the birth. Because these attempts are often unsuccessful, doctors and parents should be ready to provide treatment for premature infants. These types of labor situations are deemed high-risk in the hospital setting and the baby will almost always be moved into the NICU. All babies are placed in a controlled area which will monitor temperature, heart rate, breathing, and blood oxygen levels. Treatment will depend on how much of the baby’s organs are fully developed and the extent of any other disease conditions.

  • Insertion of feeding tube if there are problems suckling

  • Ventilator for severe breathing issues

  • Extra oxygen by means of nasal prongs or continuous positive airway pressure

  • Medications

  • Any other medical intervention until the baby’s body is functioning correctly

Infants will often stay within a special nursery until they are able to regulate their own body temperature, breathe on their own, and maintain a healthy body weight. Because this can be a rough time for the family, support groups are available to help cope with handling a special needs child.

Category: Articles