Sometimes babies are born early or need to be born before we’re ready for them. About one in nine babies born in the United States are born prematurely.
Preterm birth is labor that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Any delivery before 37 weeks presents an increased risk of complications for the baby. The baby’s lungs, digestive system, and other bodily systems aren’t fully formed yet, making it hard for it to survive on its own.
What Can Lead to Preterm Birth?
Certain pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, placental abruption, and genetic factors can cause a woman to go into labor early or cause a doctor to need to induce labor for the mother’s and baby’s health. Twins and other multiples are often born early as well.
You can help lower your chance of going into preterm labor by staying healthy throughout your pregnancy. This includes:
- Managing chronic health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure
- Avoiding smoking, alcohol, and drugs
- Protecting against infection
What Is a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)?
When babies are born prematurely, they are cared for in a specialized unit called a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) by nurses, doctors, and other providers trained to address the unique needs of these babies.
The units have advanced equipment and techniques to handle these babies’ needs. NICUs are rated by levels from I to IV based on the level of specialty care they provide and complex situations they are able to address. Having close coordination between the NICU and a children’s hospital, such as the partnership between Magee-Womens Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, further increases the hospital’s capabilities and experience to handle a range of circumstances.
Advances in NICU technology have greatly improved the chances of survival for babies born as early as 28 weeks and weighing as little as 2 pounds 3 ounces. Babies born before 28 weeks face a high risk of long-term medical complications. Breakthroughs in research have helped improve care for preterm babies and treat long-term problems such as blindness.
What Treatment Does the NICU Offer?
When a baby is born early, the organs haven’t fully developed and aren’t able to perform their normal functions. NICU staff will assess the baby’s ability to breathe, eat, stay warm, and perform other bodily functions to determine the best treatment options.
For babies able to feed, moms are encouraged to breastfeed or to offer expressed breastmilk with a spoon if the baby isn’t yet able to latch on to the breast.
Machines will also help the baby breathe, either by providing more oxygen or with a continuous positive airway pressure (C-PAP) machine. In extreme cases, the baby may be placed on a ventilator until able to breathe on her own.
Babies who need more help staying warm are placed in an incubator. Parents are encouraged to be an active part of their baby’s care.
Kangaroo care is one way parents can help their premature baby. Kangaroo care is a method of holding the baby to keep it warm, while giving skin-to-skin contact. Multiples may also be placed in the same bassinet in the NICU to maintain their experience in the womb.
Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes, is another concern and is treated in the NICU with bililights.
Having a baby born too soon is a scary experience. The specialized staff at the Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC combine clinical experience with compassion to provide these infants and their families with high-quality care and emotional support. If you have questions about your pregnancy, connect with an expert and make an appointment today.