Babies born before 37 weeks gestation are considered premature. Premature babies can face a large number of health challenges. Generally speaking the earlier they are born the more challenges they may face.
Babies born before 28 weeks are considered extremely preterm, between 28 and 32 weeks very preterm and from 32 to 37 weeks moderate to late preterm. Most extremely preterm babies are born weighing less than 1500g (3lb 5oz). According to the World Health Organisation there is an estimated 15 million babies born too soon every year. In 2010 2,708 of those were born in Western Australia. That represents approximately 8.7% of the total number of births in Western Australia. Further statistical information can be found here.
For most preterm babies the biggest hurdle they face is breathing on their own. The lungs are one of the last organs to develop, completing development between weeks 34 and 37, so many premature babies require assistance with their breathing after birth. Assistance may be provided by a ventilator, CPAP, hi-flow oxygen or low-flow oxygen. Often these babies are also given medication (surfactant) to coat their lungs as their body hasn't yet produced their own.
Other common health concerns facing premature babies in NICU/SCN include -
Apnoea of Prematurity
Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy (HIE)
Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)
Anemia of Prematurity
Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA)
Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) also known as Hyaline Membrane Disease
Chronic Lung Disease
Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC)
Infection, sepsis, pneumonia
Please note this list is not exhaustive.
Unfortunately there are occasions where the challenges that face a premature baby are insurmountable and they do pass away. According to the World Health Organisation world wide prematurity is the leading cause of newborn deaths (within the first 4 weeks of life).