The Impact of Premature Birth on the Baby

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What is a premature birth?

A preterm, premature, or “preemie” baby refers to a baby who is born before the expected due date, typically around three weeks early. The average duration of pregnancy, which involves fetal development, is approximately 40 weeks. Preterm birth, on the other hand, occurs at 37 weeks or earlier. This early birth can result in significant health risks for both the mother and the baby. Preterm birth is further categorized based on gestational age:

  1. Extremely preterm (less than 28 weeks)
  2. Very preterm (28 to less than 32 weeks)
  3. Moderate to late preterm (32 to 37 weeks)

Babies may be born preterm due to spontaneous preterm labour or if there is a medical indication to plan an early induction of labour or caesarean birth.

What causes premature birth?

Various factors contribute to preterm birth. While the majority of preterm births occur spontaneously, there are instances where medical reasons, such as infections or pregnancy complications, necessitate the need for early induction of labour or caesarean birth.

Further research is required to ascertain the underlying causes and mechanisms of preterm birth. These causes may encompass multiple pregnancies, infections, and chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. However, in many cases, the cause remains unidentified. Additionally, there may be a genetic component involved.

How does Premature Birth Affect the Baby?

Long Term Affects

  • Cerebral palsy, or CP, refers to a collection of conditions that impact the portion of the brain in charge of controlling muscle movements. As a result, individuals with CP may experience difficulties with movement, maintaining proper posture, and balancing.
  • Studies have indicated that premature babies may have more chance of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) compared to babies born at full term. ADHD is a condition that hinders a person’s ability to concentrate and regulate their behaviour.
  • Premature babies may also be more susceptible to mental health conditions later in life. Depression is a medical condition characterized by prolonged feelings of sadness that significantly disrupt daily functioning and require treatment for improvement. Anxiety, on the other hand, manifests as persistent worry or fear that impacts various aspects of one’s life, including academic performance, employment, and interpersonal relationships.
  • Neurological disorders encompass a range of conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, and nerves throughout the body.
  • Asthma is a health condition primarily affecting the airways, leading to breathing difficulties.
  • Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), also referred to as BPD, is a lung disease that can develop in both premature babies and those who have received treatment with a breathing machine. BPD can result in inflammation and scarring of the lungs, making affected individuals more susceptible to lung infections like pneumonia. Although the lungs typically improve over time, premature babies may experience asthma-like symptoms or long-term lung damage throughout their lives.
  • Dental issues can arise in premature babies, such as delayed tooth growth, changes in tooth colour, or misalignment of teeth as they age.
  • Hearing loss is more common in children who are born prematurely compared to those born at full term.
  • Premature babies may have a weakened immune system, making fighting off infections harder. This vulnerability to infections can persist as the baby grows.
  • Intestinal problems, often caused by necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), can affect premature babies. NEC is a severe disease that can lead to complications like scarring or blockage in the intestine. Surgery may be necessary to address these issues, and some babies may have difficulty absorbing nutrients after intestinal surgery.
  • Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is an eye disease that frequently affects premature babies. It occurs when the retinas do not fully develop in the weeks following birth. Vision problems are more common in children born prematurely compared to those born on time.
  • Premature birth can result in long-term intellectual and developmental disabilities, impacting physical development, learning abilities, communication skills, self-care, and social interactions.

Short Term Affects

  • Breathing difficulties are common in premature babies due to their underdeveloped lungs. If the baby’s lungs lack a substance that aids lung expansion, they may struggle to breathe properly. Fortunately, this condition, known as respiratory distress syndrome, can be treated effectively.
  • Premature babies often experience pauses in their breathing, referred to as apnea. However, most infants outgrow this condition when discharged from the hospital. In some cases, premature babies may develop a less common lung disorder called bronchopulmonary dysplasia. While they may require oxygen for a few weeks or months, they typically outgrow this issue.
  • Heart problems are also prevalent in premature babies, including patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) and low blood pressure. PDA is characterized by an opening between two vital blood vessels, the aorta and the pulmonary artery. Fortunately, this heart defect often closes on its own, but if left untreated, it can lead to complications such as heart failure. Low blood pressure may require treatment through intravenous fluids, medications, and occasionally blood transfusions.
  • The risk of intraventricular haemorrhage, or bleeding in the brain, increases with the earlier a baby is born. While most haemorrhages are mild and resolve without significant short-term effects, some babies may experience more severe brain bleeding that results in permanent brain damage.
  • Temperature regulation challenges. Premature babies are susceptible to rapid heat loss due to their lack of stored body fat compared to full-term infants. Additionally, their bodies cannot generate enough heat to compensate for the heat lost through their skin. If their body temperature drops too low, it may lead to a dangerous condition known as hypothermia. Hypothermia in premature infants can cause breathing difficulties and low blood sugar levels. Furthermore, preterm babies may utilize all the energy gained from feedings to maintain warmth, so smaller premature infants initially require additional heat from a warmer or an incubator.
  • Premature infants often have underdeveloped digestive systems, which can result in various issues, including necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). NEC occurs when the cells lining the bowel wall become damaged and is more likely to affect premature babies after they begin feeding. However, the risk of developing NEC is significantly lower in premature babies who exclusively receive breast milk.
  • Premature babies are susceptible to various health issues, including blood, metabolism, and immune system problems. One common blood problem is anaemia, where the body lacks sufficient red blood cells. While all newborns experience a gradual decrease in red blood cell count during their first months of life, premature babies may experience a more significant drop. Another blood problem is newborn jaundice, characterized by yellowish skin and eyes. This occurs when the baby’s blood contains an excess of bilirubin, a yellow-colored substance from the liver or red blood cells. Although jaundice can have multiple causes, it is more prevalent in preterm babies.
  • Metabolism problems are also common among premature babies. Metabolism refers to the body’s converting food and drink into energy. Some premature babies may have low blood sugar levels due to their limited stored blood sugar compared to full-term babies. Additionally, premature babies may struggle to convert their stored sugar into more usable forms of blood sugar.
  • Premature babies often have underdeveloped immune systems, which increases their vulnerability to illnesses. Infections can quickly spread to the bloodstream in premature babies, leading to a life-threatening condition called sepsis. It is crucial to monitor and address these immune system problems to protect premature infants’ health and well-being.


It is crucial to acknowledge that preterm infants may not achieve growth or developmental milestones at the same pace as full-term infants. This is a common occurrence. Typically, preterm babies catch up with full-term babies in terms of development by the age of two years.

While certain complications arising from premature birth cannot be avoided, neonatal intensive care units have successfully saved numerous lives.


1. Do premature babies have problems later in life?

Premature delivery may result in enduring cognitive and developmental impairments for infants. These encompass issues about the brain’s functioning, which can subsequently lead to difficulties or setbacks in physical growth.

2. Can premature babies be healthy?

Premature infants might not have reached full development upon birth. They could encounter a higher number of health complications and require an extended hospital stay compared to babies born at a later stage. With the advancements in medical care, even highly premature babies have a greater chance of survival in the present era.


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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