July 26, 2021
According to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every 10th child in the United States is born prematurely, which is defined as 37 weeks before the mother’s pregnancy. But less than 1% of precedents are born not only weeks, but three months before their expiration date. Extreme levels of prematurity that threaten survival can cause health problems for the youngest infants.
By 1980, babies born at or before 24 weeks’ gestation were nearly dying, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). But the age of viability, when a premature baby can be saved with intensive medical care, has steadily shifted to earlier stages.
Small babies weighing a few pounds can now be saved at 23 or even 22 weeks pregnant, says a neonatologist at Jocelyn Austria, MD, JFK University Medical Center. “We have come a long way,” he said.
According to the ACOG, less than 6 percent of all babies born today survive, the vast majority of whom have long-term medical problems. But three-quarters of babies born at 25 weeks’ gestation will survive to be discharged from hospital.
“In the case of premature infants, if the available equipment cannot accommodate the baby because they are too small, it is unfortunately a barrier to survival,” explains Britney Reed, JFK’s director of neonatology.
Vulnerable to long-term challenges
The vast majority of premature babies are born 34 weeks or more after the mother’s pregnancy, says Dr. Austria. Although they are bigger at this point, “these kids are vulnerable, so you have to be careful with them,” he says.
Depending on the gestational age, premature babies may face medical challenges such as:
- Breathing problems
- Feeding difficulties
- Development acceleration delays
- Vision problems
- Hearing problems
- Cerebral palsy in children
This is because the last weeks and months of pregnancy stimulate the maturation of vital organs such as the brain, lungs and liver.
“In general, prematurity increases the risk of developmental delay, such as not speaking on time or turning around. The shelters we look for in infant aging, ”explains Dr. Reed. Each additional week of pregnancy can last up to 26 weeks, greatly increasing the chances of the baby surviving and flourishing.
“There are varying degrees of delays and long-term effects,” adds Dr. Reed, “but the vast majority of babies born between the ages of 28 and 30 weeks can survive without significant complications.” “It is possible to survive for less than 28 weeks, but the risk of long-term complications is much higher.”
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