Premature Infancy Essay, Research Paper
Premature babies, otherwise known as preterm babies, or preemies, are babies that
are born earlier than the full-term of thirty-eight to forty-two weeks of pregnancy. These
babies are generally born between the twentieth and thirty-eighth week. Almost 250,000
babies, nearly seven percent of newborns, are premature(Golant 4). Prematurity, even
with all the advances in technology, is still a major cause of fetal and neonatal death.
Actually, around seventy-five percent of perinatal deaths are due to a number of problems
associated with prematurity(Freeman 232). Premature babies are very weak and
defenseless, and need to be hospitalized. One reason for this is that a baby may become
startled into shock by a loud sound or even bright light. This occurs because many babies
have fully-developed senses and underdeveloped organs, which may become a problem,
since the brain may not be developed well enough to be able to distinguish these different
senses, which causes the baby to panic and lose control of its actions.
The main underdeveloped parts of a premature baby are its organs, chiefly the
lungs and the brain. The lungs are developed in the last few weeks of pregnancy, and if
the child is born before the thirty sixth week, he/she may require some special attention.
Usually, the child is monitored closely for the first few weeks of its life, in order to make
sure there is no problems with the breathing or any other function of its body. The
premature baby will probably need supplemental oxygen to help it through the early
stages, but rarely will it need an actual respirator or other life-supporting device on a full-
time twenty four hour basis. In fact, giving the baby too much oxygen may complicate
problems, such as damages to the eyes. This is caused by a over-abundance of oxygen in
the blood stream, which in turn causes the blood vessels of the eye to expand, damaging
the eye. This problem is one of the main concerns when bearing a pre-term baby versus a
Another difference, probably the most noticeable one, is the size and weight of the
baby. A preemie will look thin and helpless, and will also have transparent skin. Blood
vessels, veins and bones are sometimes visible through the skin of these babies. This is
because the skin of a premature baby is very fragile and tender and can be bruised or
broken very easily by a slight amount of pressure. For this reason, many preemies,
especially early preemies, are better off not wearing clothing or diapers. Not wearing
clothing helps make it easier for the doctor to work with the baby and keep the skin?s
stress levels to a minimum. Even though the parents may want to hold and cuddle their
baby, it is best for the child and the parents if they keep to a minimum the handling of a
Doctors are trying to figure out ways to prevent premature labor from occurring.
Through a drug called Ritodrive, doctors have been quite successful in prolonging the
pregnancy until the thirty-sixth week(Griesemer 15). Although successful in many cases,
doctors are still very skeptical on whether or not women should take any form of drugs
while they are pregnant. In the past, there was a belief that the placenta protects the
unborn baby from all drugs, bur just recently studies have shown that many drugs can be
passed from the mother to the child. Another reason which drugs are not regularly
administered to upcoming mothers is that it is very difficult to determine how drugs will
actually act on the fetus, since test results can vary so differently from person to person,
and also because these results are very unpredictable. For this reason, women are rarely
prescribed drugs while pregnant, unless when needed or under the care and supervision of
Caring for a premature baby can be very tough for parents at times. Since they are
urged not to handle the baby much, it makes it very hard for the baby to receive much
attention, and also for the parent to see the baby as often as s/he wants to. Feeding a
preemie may be a very difficult and cumbersome task. Some preterm babies are fed
through an umbilical artery catheter, a tube placed through the navel, or by an intravenous
placed through a vein in the baby?s head or scalp. This IV contains a solution with the
nutrients the baby needs for survival. More mature preemies may be fed by formula, or
even breast milk. Breast milk is preferred, if the baby has developed good enough sucking
skills, another skill developed late in pregnancy, and also if the baby?s body is functional
enough to tolerate the milk. Some advantages of breast milk over formula are that breast
milk can improve growth, provide antibodies against infection, stimulate faster nerve
growth, and help regulate heartbeat and breathing patterns through sucking, making the
flow of oxygen more even and efficient.
Heart problems are another common problem among prematurely born babies.
The most common problem is that blood might circulate through the body, but without
passage through the lungs. This happens while the baby is in the fetus, and continues until
about the thirty-sixth week when the lungs are almost fully functional. Recently, a drug
has been developed that can be used as a substitute to the old method of surgery that was
used to combat this problem in most cases.
The causes for premature birth is generally an underdeveloped placenta. One thing
that is known to have an affect on this is cigarette smoke, which lowers the oxygen supply
to the placenta. Drinking alcohol in large quantities and smoking marijuana and doing
other drugs also increases the risk for having a premature baby. Having preterm babies is
not an inherent trait, which is a common rumor, but some conditions which premature
babies have later in life, such as diabetes, are inherent. Age is also a factor which has no
effect on bearing a premature child. Although older women tend to be less fertile and
have a greater chance of bearing a baby with genetic defects, such as having Down?s
Syndrome, they do not have to worry any more about having a baby born pre-term than a
twenty or twenty-five year old woman. Although this is true, a mother who delivers one
preterm baby is more likely to deliver another during her next pregnancy than a mother
who hasn?t had a problem with previous pregnancy. Another high risk for premature
pregnancy is when twins, or other multiple babies, are born. This occurs often because the
mother?s body cannot hold more than one child for the normal full-term of thirty eight to
forty two weeks, and must get rid of the children from the uterus in order to return the
body to normal and prevent any injuries from occurring inside the mother?s womb.
Many advances are occurring everyday which enable mothers to feel safer with the
care of premature babies. New drugs are being developed and new methods are being
tested to ensure the security of a preemie, enabling the rate of deaths and the rate of
premature babies born to both be lowered. As recently as 1986, premature babies had a
much lower chance of survival, and with the help of experts, this factor has been greatly
reduced. Hopefully, by the time our generation or our children?s generation begins to
think about bearing children, there will not be much of a risk of having a premature baby.
Freeman, Roger, and Pescar, Susan. “Safe Delivery: Protecting Your Baby During High-
Risk Pregnancy. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1982.
Golant, Susan and Ludington, Susan. Kangaroo Care The Best You Can Do To Help
Your Preterm Infant. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.
Griesemer, Bernard and Pfister, Fred. The Littlest Baby. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-
Hall Inc., 1983.