Part 3: Premature births

One of the big fallacies of pregnancy is that it lasts 9 months. Most mothers start counting 9 x 4 and are waiting for a baby 36 weeks later. The truth is that a full term baby stays in the womb for about 40 weeks. Some babies however are not that lucky and come out early. To what extent this will affect the baby will depend on: how early the delivery was, what the baby’s birth weight is, the type of post-natal care and the environment during the early childhood.

From 34 weeks onwards the baby is considered slightly premature but the difference between this and a full-term baby is not significant. Premature babies are likely to have less mature organs and may be slightly more vulnerable. With good care however, baby should be fine. Today babies born as early as 24 weeks can be helped to survive although they can have serious developmental problems.

The senses develop in a particular order. Touch is the first, followed by taste and smell, hearing and finally vision. This means that premature babies will be more sensitive to all these types of stimulation. When they are in the incubators they generally have two major risks, under-stimulation and over-stimulation. Both of these can affect the brain development of the child. It is preferable to stimulate the maturest senses first and this will help develop the others.

Something worth noting is that the baby may have trouble sleeping. This may deter his development. This will be especially true if he is in hospital where people are constantly examining him and moving him to change him or adjust one of the machines. It is important to provide an environment suitable for sleep for as long as is logistically possible. It is equally important for the mother to understand what the baby is going through, especially if it is her first baby. Otherwise she is likely to blame herself. For instance, because a premature baby’s muscles may not have developed fully, he may have trouble feeding and may respond by gagging. A new mother will think that it is because she is not feeding him properly and these feelings of inadequacy may distance her from her own child.

It may also be advisable to put softer light around the baby and to ensure minimal noise. This is especially important for more premature babies so as not to over-stimulate these immature senses. You can then gradually make them more intense. All in all, with adequate care and understanding there is no reason a premature baby, after this initial period of compensation, can’t be healthy and happy.

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