Effects of preterm birth on growth and development of babies

Premature babies are prone to more health risks than full-term babies. Preterm birth usually affects a child’s respiratory system and brain development. The effects of preterm birth on a baby’s development depend on how early the baby was born before its full term. Preterm birth can have short term and long term effects on a child’s development.

Short term effects of preterm birth:

  • Preterm babies are born with serious breathing problems. Sometimes they have to be put on ventilators to breathe.
  • These babies are at higher risks of developing asthma in the later stage of life.
  • As mentioned earlier, they are likely to develop brain impairments, because the brain is the last major organ to develop even after birth. So when the baby is prematurely born, its brain has to keep growing in an abnormal environment that is outside the womb. So even though the brain develops post-birth, for premature babies, the development is slow as they have spent less time inside the womb.
  • In short, the kind of growth that happens easily inside the womb is difficult for preemies outside the womb.

Long term effects of preterm birth:

  • Life-long effects include cerebral palsy, mental retardation, visual and hearing impairments, and poor health.
  • Babies, who are born a few weeks early, say at 34-36 weeks, may have behavioural, social and emotional problems.
  • They are likely to develop learning difficulties.
  • Increased risk of ADHD
  • Increased risk of SIDS
  • Chronic diseases such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
  • The other important thing to keep in mind is the birth weight. The less your baby weighed when (s)he was born, the more likely (s)he is to have health problems that could affect his/her growth. Mostly the preemies born with very less weight than normal a child are kept in the hospital under observation. First year can be a bit problematic but gradually they cope up.

The other general effects found in preemies are:

  • They may look different than full term babies.
  • Their bones and muscles are fragile. In the last few weeks of pregnancy, lots of minerals like calcium and phosphorus needed for baby’s growth are transferred from mother to baby. And because premature babies are born before full term, they cannot get enough of these minerals. They need extra care while handling.
  • Language development may be delayed. These babies might have more trouble speaking and understanding the language.
  • Their teeth may develop abnormally or may have late teething than full-term babies.
  • There are chances of vision impairment, squint eyes, farsightedness or nearsightedness.

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