Babies born at less than 37 weeks' gestation are preterm, or premature. According to the author of “When You're Expecting Twins, Triplets, or Quads,” Dr. Barbara Luke, roughly 10 percent of single baby and 50 percent of twin pregnancies are premature. Technology has increased the survival rate of babies born between 32 and 34 weeks. Those born between 32 and 33 weeks have an approximate 98 percent survival rate, and those delivered between 34 and 36 weeks have more than a 99 percent chance of survival, states the March of Dimes website. However, there are still dangers.
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According to the March of Dimes, most babies born at 32 or 33 weeks weigh 3 to 5 pounds. If a baby is less than 4 pounds, he is automatically placed in the neonatal intensive care unit and will remain there until he weighs 4 pounds. Therefore, feeding becomes priority number one to help the newborn gain weight. The preemie baby must demonstrate steady, continuous weight gain over several days to a week. The weight is a potential danger because premature babies have insufficient body fat needed to sustain their body temperature. Because of this danger, preemies are placed in incubators or radiant warmers, electronically warmed beds, to warm them, notes KidsHealth from Nemours.
Premature babies can have issues with feeding because if they are delivered before 34 weeks, they can have trouble sucking effectively to feed, says Luke. The treating physician may have to order a gavage, a feeding tube that is inserted into the baby’s stomach, or intravenous feedings so that the baby can receive the essential nutrients needed to develop and grow. According to Luke, if mouth feedings were to be given to a premature baby, it would be “poorly digested and would trigger additional problems.”
At 35 weeks, a baby’s brain weighs only 66 percent of what it will weight at 40 weeks, according to the March of Dimes. Delivering a baby between 32 and 34 weeks poses even more risks for learning and behavioral problems because brain development is incomplete and preterm babies are more likely to developmental delays, reports the March of Dimes.
Premature babies are more at risk for developing infections because of their underdeveloped immune systems, says Luke and the March of Dimes. Because they usually require medical and surgical exposure, there are multiple ways an infection can attack the baby, from a surgical incision to a feeding tube or respirator.