Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU) Dr. Fazıl Küçük Faculty of Medicine Clinical Practice and Research Center Director, Neonatal Intensive Care Specialist and Pediatrician Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nilüfer Güzoğlu released a statement regarding the 17 November World Prematurity Day. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Güzoğlu’s statement reads as follows:
Definition of Prematurity and Late Preterm
17 November is referred as the “World Prematurity Day” and is celebrated as an awareness day for the problems and support of premature babies and their families. Babies born before 37th gestational week are called premature. However, the term of premature is a very broad concept, as both a 25-week-old baby and a 35-week-old baby are defined as premature. Since the problems of premature babies born in such different weeks also show differences, premature babies are also classified according to their birth week. Although the problems that may be experienced by very preterm babies are generally known by the society, the problems of babies born between 34 and 36 weeks, which we call late preterm babies, are not well known.
Common Health Problems Observed in Late Preterm Babies
Late preterm babies look like term babies in regards to the body size, although this may seem like an advantage for them, in reality they are also premature and physiologically underdeveloped. Because of this immaturity, late premature babies are at higher risk than term babies for jaundice, sucking-feeding difficulties, low blood sugar, infections, respiratory problems, and dehydration. In terms of these risks, such babies are evaluated in the hospital when they are first born, and if necessary, they can be admitted to short-term special care units, and even in some cases, babies may need to be monitored and treated in the neonatal intensive care unit.
One of the most common problems observed in late preterm babies is poor feeding. This is because they have poor sucking and swallowing coordination when they are born. Breast milk may also be delayed because of preterm birth. For this reason, it is important to observe the breastfeeding position and milk passage by trained caregivers after birth, and to explain the nutrition plan to the family. Feeding times for breastfed babies should be with the target of 8-10 feedings per day with 2-3 hour intervals depending on the baby's demand. After breastfeeding, the mother may need to pump to facilitate the emptying of her breast. Some physiological weight loss is expected in the first 1-2 weeks, but if the weight loss is more than expected, it may be necessary to supplement with expressed breast milk or formula after breastfeeding. Formula-fed babies, on the other hand, should be fed every 3 hours with a target of 8 feedings.
Another common problem in late premature babies is neonatal jaundice. They are at risk for jaundice due to feeding problems, slow bowel movements and insufficient liver maturation. Therefore, these babies should be closely monitored for jaundice after discharging from the hospital.
Late premature babies are also more risky in terms of infection when compared to term babies. During a normal pregnancy, antibodies are passed from mother to baby in the last period of pregnancy and the baby's immune system matures in the last month of pregnancy. Because late premature babies are born before completing this period, the risk of infection is increased. It is important for the baby that the family learns the benefits and techniques of hand washing in preventing infections. It is also important to avoid post-discharge contact with infected people in the first year of life, especially in the extremely sensitive winter months, as the susceptibility to postpartum viral infection will also be high.