Small Wonder

Neonatologist Dr Umesh Vaidya on preterm babies and the myths related to their development.

Written by Anuradha Mascharenhas | Pune | Published: November 20, 2013 3:20:38 am

What’s common between Albert Einstein,Sir Isaac Newton,Sir Winston Churchill and Charles Darwin? Besides the fact that each of them has earned a place in history lessons for his achievements,they were all preterm babies. In fact,Einstein’s parents were even worried about his intellect as he was a “late learner”. Preterm birth,also known as prematurity,is the birth of a baby at less than 37 weeks of gestational age. These babies do not reach their full potential growth in the womb and are thus born smaller than usual.

“Having a premature baby comes with a wide range of developmental risks. There is a high chance of biological and neuro-developmental risks with a preterm. The degree of neurological risks is directly proportionate to the level of prematurity,” saysy Dr Umesh Vaida,Neonatologist at KEM and Sahyadri Hospital. Vaidya explains that the preterm babies need special medical care soon after birth and require admittance to Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) post delivery and treatment for various medical conditions.

The overall incidence of preterm birth accounts for 10-12 per cent. “However,with the quality medical care,the survival rate of babies born more than 1,000gm has gone up to 80-90 per cent,” says Vaidya,who has co-authored the book Bringing Up Preterm Babies – A Guide for Parents. The book,which has been jointly authored by Krisha Krishnani,mother of a preterm baby,was launched on November 17,observed as World Prematurity Day. Another book,Delivered Too Soon,by Indian Foundation for Premature Babies was also launched on the occasion. This book has contributions from neonatologists across the country.

“Parents of preterm babies have concerns and queries that need definite and detailed answers which,unfortunately,doctors are not always available to answer,” says Vaidya,adding that while the first book provides simple tips on neonatal care,the second will serve as a guide for policy makers to address issues of newborn care in India.

Besides,Vaidya also addresses some common concerns that parents of preterm babies have:

What kind of treatments can be given to preterm babies?

Most common treatment is the assistance required for breathing in the form of ventilator and other techniques of oxygen support. Equipments such as CPAP,incubator and infusion pumps are used in NICU on a daily basis. These babies also need to be protected against infections and complications,which may develop after birth. The aim of medical care is to provide interventions that will prevent complications,make babies grow better and facilitate their brain development by stimulation in the NICU.

How grave are the risks ?

If a baby is born before 32 weeks,he would be considered at high risk and the outcomes can be variable. But a baby born after 32 weeks (expected to have a uncomplicated NICU course) has a relatively lower risk of abnormal outcome. Another categorisation is illness-related risk,which leads to longer NICU stay and more medical interventions.

What can parents do for a preterm baby?

Once the doctors give good medical care to the baby,the role of parents starts. Baby needs special care such as maintaining warmth,timely feeding and strict hygiene till it reaches a body weight of 2 kg. They also need to stimulate the baby at home with techniques that can be learnt by the therapists or doctors. Also,vaccination schedule should be strictly adhered to in order to prevent any further illnesses in the baby. The baby should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months.

Are there any myths relating to premature babies?

People have misconstrued notions about them like under performing in life,having mental or physical disabilities and lower IQ levels than kids of their age. Also,some people say that delivery in seventh or ninth month is fine but eighth month is not. These are plain myths. Barring a certain percentage of babies who are very small and have multiple complications,most others are capable of performing as well as term babies if provided good quality medical care and post-discharge care.

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