Babies born prematurely
Babies born prematurely in Australia equal over 17,000 each year. It is a situation that no baby, mother or family chooses and strikes at random across all countries and ethnic groups.
Any parent who has had a premature child will understand the emotional rollercoaster it brings. Premmie babies will often require intensive care treatment, surgery or round the clock monitoring.
A few years ago, babies born weighing less than 1 kilogram were classed as critical with many dying; however thanks to research and medical advances, doctors now regularly save babies weighing less than a loaf of bread.
Seven per cent of births in Australia are premature. A premature baby is classed as being born before 37 weeks of development. Babies that do survive the birth often face complications as their organs are too small or underdeveloped to function independently outside the womb.
As the lungs are the last organ to develop, lung-related disorders such as respiratory disease are the most common problem in premature babies. Cerebral palsy, blindness and brain damage resulting from a lack of oxygen reaching the baby's brain are also common disorders.
Advancing technology has enabled doctors to save tiny babies who would have died in the past. However, it is equally important to conduct research into reducing the complications of premature birth.
As mentioned, cerebral palsy (brain damage) and blindness are two side effects associated with being born very premature. Too little oxygen can damage tiny brains and cause permanent disability. Too much oxygen in the early stages of eye development can cause blindness in premature babies. Continued research is required to ensure new technology is utilised to keep babies alive and stop adverse side effects from impacting on these babies later in life.
No one knows the reasons behind why babies are born prematurely, so prediction and prevention are difficult; however it is known that mothers with high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia), diabetes or a severe illness are more at risk. A premature baby's survival depends on its weight and how early it was born.
Around five to ten per cent of pre-term deliveries in Australia are due to pre-eclampsia or its associated complications. Pre eclampsia is a serious disorder of pregnancy.
At present, there is no way to cure pre-eclampsia. Sometimes medication is needed to control blood pressure and the woman may benefit from resting. The only cure is to deliver the baby and the placenta.
If left untreated, pre-eclampsia can lead to convulsions, kidney failure, liver failure, clotting problems or death. Some of the advanced symptoms of the disorder include:
- Visual disturbances, such as flashing lights
- Abdominal pain just below the ribs
- Nausea and vomiting
Some symptoms of pre-eclampsia, such as fluid retention, are also typical in normal pregnancies. This means that some women may dismiss the early warning signs. Regular antenatal checks are vital.