Health Problems with Premature Babies

Updated at: Sep 12, 2011
Health Problems with Premature Babies

Newborn Care- Premature babies are at higher risk of health problems. Respiratory distress syndrome, feeding difficulties, apnoea and central nervous system problems are some of the common problem.

Dr Poonam Sachdev
Newborn CareWritten by: Dr Poonam SachdevPublished at: Sep 12, 2011

Premature babies are not completely equipped for a life outside the womb. They are more prone to several health problems. Breathing difficulties, maintaining body temperature, jaundice and feeding difficulties are just some of the problems that premature babies might face. The risks of health problems are higher in babies who are born extremely premature. They need complete supervision and extreme care in Neonatal Intensive Care Units.  Here are some of the common health problems with premature babies.


Respiratory distress syndrome


The lungs of premature babies are not completely developed. It lacks an important substance called surfactant. Surfactant forms a coat in the air sacs in healthy lungs and helps to keeps the air sacs open to take in oxygen and makes breathing easy. Deficiency of surfactant in the lungs makes gas exchange and breathing difficult. Breathing problem caused in preemies due to lack of surfactant is called Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS). RDS is more severe in extremely premature babies.


Feeding difficulties


Many preterm babies have difficulty in feeding because of weakness and prematurity. If your premature baby cannot suck at the breast due to a weak suck or any other reason try to express the breast milk and give it to the nurse for feeding through bottle, spoon or tube.

Neonatal jaundice


Jaundice is caused due to increase in an element called bilirubin. Neonatal jaundice is more likely to develop and is more likely to be severe in preterm babies. The risk of brain damage due to high bilirubin is higher in a preterm baby as compared to a full term neonate.



Another common health problem seen in preemies is apnoea or a period where breathing stops of prematurity. It occurs as their brains and lungs are not mature. Stimulating the baby or other respiratory help (such as giving artificial breaths to the baby) may stimulate the normal breathing process again in these babies.




Preterm babies are at high risk of developing various infections like sepsis (blood infection), pneumonia, brain infection, and bone and joint infections.

Central Nervous System Problems


Preterm neonates are at risk of internal bleeding inside the brain, and development of hydrocephalus (dilatation of the fluid-filled cavities or ventricles in the brain). They are at higher risk of other problems such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, learning disorders, and vision, speech and hearing problems.

Health Problems later in Life


Many premature babies face problems later in life as well. Some of these health problems include developmental delays (cognitive, language and motor skills), learning difficulties, and hearing and vision problems.

If you are the parent of a premature baby you should ask your doctor what are the different health problems that your baby can develop; specifically when you take her home from the hospital. Regular follow up visits to your paediatrician is an important part of care of premature babies as they help to detect any health problem in early stages and facilitate early intervention.


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