While we are all desperate to finally meet our baby, no one wants their child to arrive too early, before being fully developed. But for many parents, this is the case, and the stress and shock of a premature baby can be enormous.
However, exciting new research has delivered some good news for those with babies born too soon, finding that most of them will grow up with no significant health problems.
When babies come too soon
Pregnancy is usually around 40 weeks, and babies are considered full term at 37 weeks. When babies come much earlier than expected, it can pose serious health issues, as they are not fully developed to cope with the outside world. Many babies are required to stay at hospital longer in the nursery, or the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) as the development of body parts such as their lungs, eyes and digestive systems is not complete.
According to the Mayo Clinic, many need help with feeding and adjusting to the environment, while some can face problems with breathing, temperature control and well as heart, brain, blood and gastrointestinal issues. And naturally, it causes enormous stress for new parents when their precious baby is facing such challenges. However, research shows that for the majority of preterm babies, particularly late preterm, make a full recovery.
Exciting research on preterm babies
A recent study out of Sweden, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) examined approximately 2.5 million babies who were born between 1973 and 1997. Out of the group, which had approximately equal numbers of both male and female babies, 5.8 percent were preterm. The aim was to examine the health of preterm babies as they grew into adulthood.
To do this, the researchers looked at the health situation of all babies in the group in 2015, when they were 18 to 43 years of age, to see if there were any particular health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, lung disease, and neuropsychiatric disorders.
“The resilience of preterm birth survivors”
Out of the 5.8 percent of babies who were born prematurely, 54.6 percent were alive and well and had experienced no major physical or mental health issues. Considering the result for those born full-term was not much more at 63 percent, this is an encouraging statistic. And the results were similar for both male and female babies.
“Our findings reflect the apparent resilience of preterm birth survivors in maintaining good health,” Dr Casey Crump, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City reported to Reuters.
However, for those babies who are born extremely preterm, at or before 25 weeks, the situation is slightly different with just 22 percent alive in 2005 with no major health concerns. The number jumps up slightly for very preterm babies, those born less than 32 weeks, with 49 percent growing into adulthood with no serious health issues.
For babies born late preterm, at 34 to 36 weeks, the results were more positive, showing that 58 percent grew up to be healthy with no major health problems.
The results of the study are extremely promising and offer parents of premature babies some assurance and hope.
The majority of babies born preterm will grow up into young adults with no major physical or mental health issues. While the chances slightly decrease the more premature a baby is born, for parents of premature babies, this is still music to their anxious ears.
“Despite increased risks of several chronic disorders, the majority can still have good overall health in adulthood,” Dr Crump told Reuters.