What Mothers of Premature Babies Need to Know

a parent holding the small hand of a premature baby

November is Prematurity Awareness Month, so we wanted to take some time to address this maternal and infant health crisis that affects nearly 400,000 babies each year. Fortunately, the survival rate for premature babies born after 28 weeks who weigh over two pounds, three ounces is very high. Further, the majority of premature babies who are born after the thirtieth week will typically only have very minimal long-term health or development issues. For preterm babies born before twenty-eight weeks, however, tend to experience more complications, and require support in a neonatal intensive care unit. When it comes to caring for a premature baby, we’ve detailed some of the main differences and possible health issues that may arise.

Main Differences Between Preemies and Full-Term Babies

Physical Differences 

While the average full-term baby weighs about 7 pounds at birth, premature babies can weigh about 5 pounds or less. Since they haven’t had a chance to fully develop, it’s likely that they won’t have much fat, making their skin seem thinner, features sharper, and their head a bit larger than normal. 

Behavioral Difference

Due to the immaturity of the respiratory system, a premature baby may experience difficulty breathing which makes it so they cry softly, or not at all. 

Possible Health Issues

Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Because a premature baby’s lungs haven’t had time to develop yet, they may experience a breathing disorder called respiratory distress syndrome. This disorder typically occurs because the baby’s lungs lack surfactant, a liquid substance that allows the lungs to remain expanded, making it easier to breathe. Artificial surfactants and ventilators can help treat babies with this condition.  

Chronic Lung Disease/Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD)

Premature babies that require oxygen for several weeks or months are typically categorized as having chronic lung disease, or BPD. This condition is generally uncommon, and most babies with BPD outgrow is as their lungs and respiratory systems mature.

Apnea and Bradycardia

Apnea is a temporary pause in breathing that is common among premature babies. Occasionally accompanying apnea is bradycardia, a condition in which the heart rate suddenly declines. Fortunately, most infants outgrow both of these conditions.

Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)

Retinopathy of prematurity occurs when the retina hasn’t fully developed. Though many cases resolve themselves, some may require treatments such as laser eye surgery.


Jaundice occurs when the chemical build-up of bilirubin accumulates in the baby’s blood, causing a yellowish tint in the skin. 

When it comes to the development of premature babies, the milestones are likely going to be different than those of a full-term baby. Immediately after delivery, your baby may need extra help in feeding or adapting. It’s important to note that the stages of development vary for each individual baby, and development itself is not a race. 

At Kernodle OB/GYN, we have a comprehensive list of gynecological and obstetric services that will ensure that you get the best care possible in all stages of life. If you have any questions about caring for your premature baby, the team at Kernodle OB/GYN is here to assist you. Call us today at (336) 538-2367 to make an appointment.

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