The majority of babies born are delivered between 37 and 40 weeks gestation, and are considered term. A few babies are born preterm, earlier than 37 weeks. The youngest of these are the babies born at 23 weeks gestation. The baby delivered this early is extremely premature, very small, and requires the full support of a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) from the moment she is born.
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Fetal Development: First Trimester
During the first trimester, from conception to week 14 of pregnancy, your new baby goes through huge leaps in development. Professor Judy Maloni at Case Western Reserve University states that at this gestation, the heart begins to beat, bones are formed for the head, arms, fingers, legs and toes, the major organs and nervous system are formed and begin functioning. Legs and arms begin moving, and hiccups are common. By the end of the first trimester, your baby will be about 4 inches long and weigh a little more than 1 oz.
Fetal Development: Second Trimester
Weeks 14 to 28 are considered the second trimester. During these weeks your baby will grow very quickly, and continue to do so until birth, according to Maloni. Organs necessary for life continue to develop and mature. Eyelids, eyebrows and fingernails form, though eyelids remain fused until about 24 or 25 weeks. She moves, kicks, sleeps and wakes now, and can swallow, hear and pass urine.
General Appearance at 23 Weeks Gestation
A baby at 23 weeks gestation has the same internal and external organs present as a term baby. The major differences are size of the baby and maturity of his individual organs. The Mayo Clinic website states that a baby at 23 weeks measures about 7- and-a-half inches long from the top of the head to his rump, and weighs about 1 lb.. All his organs are immature, including the skin, which is translucent, thin and pink or red in color. Eyelids are still fused, so the baby will not open his eyes yet.
Life Support Equipment Required at 23 Weeks Gestation
Though all of a baby’s vital organs are present at 23 weeks gestation, they are not fully developed. The lungs have not produced surfactant yet, a substance that allows the air sacks in the lungs to inflate. Therefore, babies born this early require a breathing tube and a machine, called a ventilator, to breath for them. The doctors and nurses will also be watching her heart rate and effectiveness of the ventilator closely. In order to do this, small pads will be placed on her chest and one hand or foot.
Care and Monitoring Required at 23 Weeks Gestation
The baby born this prematurely is not able to coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing, and will require a tube in his nose or mouth that ends in his stomach to providing him with food. The baby has an immature nervous system at 23 weeks, which keeps him from reacting to noises and touch appropriately. Therefore, a baby born at 23 weeks gestation will be enclosed in an incubator filled with warm air, with a blanket on top blocking out light and sound. Since a premature baby does not have body fat yet, his environment needs to be warmed. The isolette will have warm, humidified air to keep the baby warm and help keep his fragile skin healthy.