Premature birth is when an infant is born before the 37th week of pregnancy completes. A full-term infant is usually born between 39-40 weeks with healthy organs and no disease unless there is a complication.
In 2021, about every 1 out of 10 childbirths were born premature, a 4% increase from 2020. Also, in the same year, African-American women had a 50% higher rate of giving birth to preterm babies.
Studies show that the survival rate for preterm babies is above 90% at 28 weeks. But these infants are at risk of certain diseases, both immediately after birth and in the long term.
Common Diseases In Preterm Infants And Why They Occur
Several diseases in infants worry mothers after they have been into preterm labor. Here are three of them, alongside their causes:
Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is fairly common and among the most serious diseases observed in premature births. In this disease, the intestinal tissue gets injured or inflamed, causing it to die. This can lead to a perforation in the intestine, and as a result, it can hold waste no longer. Thus bacteria may leak into the infant’s bloodstream, resulting in a severe infection.
NEC can be caused by medical complications, such as a premature intestine, extremely low or high blood flow to the intestine at or after birth, injury to the lining of the intestines, etc. However, NEC can also be a result of feeding baby formula to the infant.
Recent studies show that bovine-milk-based baby formulas are a major cause of NEC in infants. In this case, it’s the manufacturers and medical staff to blame. Hence, parents all across the U.S. are filing a lawsuit against those responsible for claiming damages for the injuries of their children.
TorHoerman Law, LLC, a law firm, predicts that settlement amounts for the Toxic Baby Formula NEC lawsuit can be in the $5000-$500,000 range.
Filing a lawsuit and claiming damages can help parents with their child’s NEC treatment and medical bills. However, there is an eligibility criterion that one can inquire about from a law firm that has handled similar cases.
Respiratory Distress Syndrome
RDS, or respiratory distress syndrome, is a disease that mostly occurs in premature babies. However, term infants may be affected by it too. In this condition, the lungs of the infant do not develop fully, which means it needs additional oxygen support.
The major cause of RDS is the lack of surfactant in the lungs, a liquid that the fetus produces through pneumocytes between weeks 24 and 34. The earlier the premature birth is, the risk of RDS occurring is higher, and this may lead to respiratory failure.
The condition is usually more common in monozygotic twins than dizygotic, and genetics also have a role to play. Surfactant protein deficiency rate recessive mutations may also cause RDS in premature infants.
Infants diagnosed with RDS also have a higher chance of having diseases like Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) and Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). PDA is a heart disease that occurs when the ductus arteriosus (a blood vessel connecting the pulmonary artery and aorta) remains open when it shouldn’t.
This leads to more blood being pumped into the lungs of the infant, thus often leading to fluid buildup.
In BPA, on the other hand, the lungs of the premature baby are fragile and hence easily irritated. This is because their development is not complete in premature labor or some other reason while they are still in the womb.
Retinopathy Of Prematurity
In premature or underweight babies, retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is often observed. It is an eye disease where the blood vessels in the retina grow abnormally and then bleed.
This leads to subsequent scarring of the retina, and as the scars shrink, they may detach the retina from the eye. Vision loss or permanent blindness takes place in the most serious ROP cases.
A baby’s blood vessels in the retina start growing from about 16 weeks and are complete by around 31 weeks while it is still in the womb. A premature birth rescinds the growth or leads to abnormal growth.
ROP is particularly concerning because it shows no symptoms; only an eye test can confirm it.
Medical Technology Has Successfully Reduced Preterm Mortality
Today, specialized treatments and diagnosis aid in handling diseases even in severe preterm births and low birth weight infants. While certain premature births cannot be prevented, certain lifestyle changes can reduce them.
A preterm infant is already sensitive, and so any disease only complicates things further. The best prevention, therefore, is awareness, changes in lifestyle, and ensuring the mother lives in a stress-free environment during pregnancy.