Premature Infancy


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 full-term baby.
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 preemie.
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 their doctor.

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