In the United States, approximately 10 percent of babies are born prematurely (before 37 weeks). Caryn Gibson was surprised when her twins were born full term, because often twins are born prematurely. However, she was even more surprised when her third child, a baby boy named Colton, had to be delivered at 34 weeks.
"We found on our 20-week ultrasound that I had vasa previa, so the placenta was low-lying and not in the correct spot and the umbilical cord was right over the cervix," Caryn explained. "Due to the location of where it was, if I would have gone into labor naturally, it could have been detrimental for him." To prevent that from happening, Caryn saw a perinatal specialist who collaborated with her obstetrician. "They decided to deliver at 34 weeks to prevent any complications," she said. "So, we knew he was going to be born early—he was a planned preemie."
For Colton, weighing in at 4 pounds, 8 and a half ounces at birth, everything went very smoothly, however that is not always the case with preemie babies. "All premature babies can have problems with various factors," said Dr. Greg Welch, Medical Director with Mednax pediatric group. "Babies born under 35 weeks automatically get admitted to the Special Care Nursery." The most common problems preemies face include trouble breathing, maintaining body temperature, feeding problems, low blood sugar and risk of infection.
"Their lungs are premature—so they may need something as simple as a nasal cannula to give them a little oxygen, or they may need CPAP, which is continuous positive airway pressure," explained Dr. Welch. "CPAP helps to distend and keep the little air sacs open in a preemie's lungs. It's the most important factor in keeping the lungs from collapsing." In addition to CPAP, an endotracheal tube can be used.
To help with temperature control, preemies are placed in an incubator which helps maintain a constant body temperature. "For feeding problems, sometimes initially they need IV fluid, and then tube feedings until they can start feeding on their own," said Dr. Welch. Many preemies also don't have good stores of glucose in their livers, which can lead to problems if left untreated. In addition, Dr. Welch said, "They are prone to infections because they didn't have enough time to get all the antibodies from Mom during the full duration of a normal pregnancy."
At just a week and a half old, Colton was already overcoming the obstacles he faced as a preemie. "He had to be on the CPAP machine the first day to help his lungs out, which we expected," said Caryn. After that, he had a nasal cannula to give him a little oxygen. Colton also needed a feeding tube, but was working to take more feedings by mouth so he could leave the hospital. "That's one of his goals to come home," said Caryn. "He's doing really well." Colton did drop a few ounces in the days following his birth, however he has since gained it all back.
Caryn said the entire experience has been as good as it could possibly be, given the circumstances of delivering a preemie. She credits the doctor and nurses at The Christ Hospital. "With my delivery, they were very up front with everything that could happen with me and the baby," she said. "They were very informative, which was great because not having this condition before and not having had a preemie baby, we had all these questions."
Now that Colton is in the Special Care Nursery, Caryn said she knows he is in good hands, even when she can't be there. "All the nurses in the NICU have been fantastic with Colton," she said. "We have our other two at home, so trying to divide the time is the hardest thing ever. But the nurses have been great at reassuring us. He seems content and every time we call they update us, and when we're there they let us have our time with him. It's nice that we still get our privacy and time to spend with him."
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