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Preterm Birth: Causes and Potential Health Issues in Premature Babies

Sure, pregnancy is exciting, but it’s a taxing experience. 

While most pregnancies last about 280 days or 40 weeks, some last for less than 37 weeks. Babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy are known as preterm infants. 

As reported by the World Health Organization, around 15 million babies are born prematurely every year. What’s alarming is that approximately one million preterm babies die due to complications during labor and delivery. 

Today, neonatal treatments and care help preterm babies survive, but they are still vulnerable to the long-term and short-term effects of premature birth. 

Premature babies are at risk of experiencing several health issues because their bodies aren’t fully developed to leave the womb. As a result, the rates of disabilities like cerebral palsy are high among preterm infants. 

On that note, we’ll walk you through the causes and health issues in preterm babies in this short guide. Let’s get straight into the deets, then!

Causes of Premature Birth

Although the exact cause of premature birth is unknown, certain factors increase the risk of premature delivery. Women diagnosed with the following health conditions are more likely to deliver a premature baby:

  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes

Certain factors associated with premature birth are:

  • A weakened cervix opening too soon
  • Abnormal uterus
  • Amniotic membrane infections, urinary tract infections, and other types of infections
  • Poor nutrition during pregnancy and before that too
  • Premature birth in the previous pregnancies
  • Consuming too much alcohol, using illegal drugs, or smoking

In addition, expectant women above 35 years of age and below 17 years of age are likely to deliver early. 

Potential Health Issues in Premature Babies

Some health conditions common among premature babies are:

1. Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) 

Of all the diseases, Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) is the most common disease that preterm infants are diagnosed with. 

Necrotizing enterocolitis is a bacterial infection that attacks the gastrointestinal system of premature and low-weight infants. NEC leads to excessive inflammation in the infant’s intestines, ultimately damaging them and causing the death of the tissue. 

However, not many know that necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is linked with Similac and Enfamil infant formula. Newer studies suggest that preterm infants who are fed with cow milk-based products supplied by the two brands are at a higher risk of developing NEC. 

Following these revelations, countless parents have sued Enfamil and Similac for selling defective products, because of which their children were diagnosed with NEC. 

As for the latest NEC Lawsuit update, TorHoerman Law reports that numerous toxic baby formula lawsuits are added each month to the MDL (multidistrict litigation). Firms like TorHoerman Law are still accepting cases for NEC lawsuits and helping people seek compensation for damages sustained. 

2. Anemia

Anemia in premature babies occurs when their bodies do not have enough red blood cells to transport oxygen. Often referred to as anemia of prematurity, the symptoms of anemia in premature children are:

  • Trouble feeding because of lethargy and weakness
  • Bradycardia, i.e., abnormal heart rhythm
  • Apna, i.e., irregular respiration or interruption of breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat or tachycardia
  • Pale color
  • Loss of weight
  • Tachypnea, i.e., rapid breathing

3. Blood Infection or Neonatal Sepsis

A serious illness that occurs when an infant of fewer than 28 days develops a life-threatening response to a disease is known as neonatal sepsis. The most common causes of such illness are bacterial infections. Preterm infants who have neonatal sepsis may experience inflammation in their bodies. 

Blood clotting and inflammation can inhibit blood from flowing to the vital organs and limbs of the baby. In the worst-case scenario, it may lead to death and organ failure. 

Here’s a quick rundown of the symptoms of neonatal sepsis:

  • Seizures
  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Swollen abdomen or belly
  • Difficulty feeding or reduced suckling
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath or fast breathing
  • Slow or fast heart rate
  • Low temperature or fever
  • Cold hands and feet

4. Jaundice

Jaundice is yet another health condition common among preterm infants. It occurs when bilirubin, a chemical, starts building up in a preterm infant’s blood. Often, the tell-tale sign of jaundice in preterm infants is yellow eyes and skin. 

Most commonly, preterm babies whose liver isn’t functioning properly or hasn’t been fully developed have jaundice. Other symptoms of jaundice in preterm infants are:

  • Dark urine or light-colored feces
  • Unusual drowsiness
  • Feeding difficulties

The Takeaway

To recapitulate, premature birth exposes children to a host of serious illnesses, from NEC to jaundice. That’s mainly because preterm infants’ organs aren’t fully developed before the 37th week of gestation. 

Eating a healthy diet before and during your pregnancy, quitting illegal drugs, and smoking and drinking lots of water may be helpful in delaying premature birth. Just make sure to follow your doctor’s advice and refrain from consuming any medicine that will put you or your unborn child at risk. 

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