If you’ve been here before, you might know that two of my children were born premature. My oldest was born at 24 weeks gestation and my second child was born at 31 weeks gestation. They spent almost 4 months and 1 1/2 months in the NICU respectively. I was almost going to just update my previous post about parenting in the NICU when I realized that I should break this up a bit. So I’ll have another post about NICU parenting but first, let’s talk about what it means to have a preemie.
“Preemie” is the common term used when referring to a premature baby.
The dictionary definition of a preemie is “a prematurely born infant”. A preemie is born before 37 weeks gestation while a full term baby is born at 37 weeks or after. Preemies require a very different start in life, and this can vary dramatically depending on the level of prematurity. Micropreemie and preemie are the two terms used to help define the degree of prematurity.
To a NICU medical professional, a micropreemie is defined as a baby that is under 1 ¾ pounds (between 700-800 grams) and is generally born before 26 weeks gestation, but most people prefer to loosen this term up to include any baby under 3 pounds (1500 grams) or under 29 weeks gestation. Micropreemies require a lot of medical attention in order to survive, and many more micropreemies are surviving than ever before in history. The statistics for the survival of a micropreemie can range from 10-80%.
A micropreemie born before 23 weeks gestation has no chance of survival to 10%.
Every day inside the mother increases the chances of survival for a micropreemie, and every week is a major significance continuing to push that percentage higher. This also lowers the numbers of short and long term health risks.
Some of the many difficulties that a micropreemie experiences are immature lungs, an underdeveloped digestive system, cerebral hemorrhaging, high risk of infection, incomplete feeding reflexes, severe anemia, neurological delays, physical handicaps, and long term health issues.
Because of so many problems associated with being a micropreemie, medical intervention to keep micropreemies alive include biliblankets, blood pressure monitors, cardiac monitors, endotracheal tubes, isolettes, intravenous pumps & tubes, nasal CPAPs, nasal gastric tubes, nasal prongs, oxyhoods, oxygen saturation monitors, phototherapy lights, pulse oximeters, respiratory monitors, synthetic surfactant, temperature probes, UACs, ultrasounds, UVCs, and ventilators.
For a first time parent of a preemie; the NICU can be a very overwhelming and intimidating place. And it may just begin the moment that your baby is whisked away. With a micropreemie, chances are slim that you’ll be able to hold them right away.
But don’t panic. That day will come in time.
So much more information is being made available to parents of micropreemies than ever before, allowing parents the opportunity to educate themselves on their micropreemie’s needs.
The technical term for preemie is defined as a baby that is under 5 ½ pounds (2500 grams), though the general public chooses to call any baby under 7 pounds (3000 grams) a preemie.
This is partially due to the fact that it is difficult to find clothing that fits these babies unless shopping at preemie stores for preemie sizes, so some parents refer to their little baby as a preemie. Another reason is that many people are uninformed about the definition of prematurity.
Statistics for preemie survival is greater than 90%.
The medical requirements for preemies tends to be a lot less demanding than those of their micropreemie counterparts.
However, it can still be a precarious time and many preemies may still be on much of the medical equipment that micropreemies need. A preemie is weaned off of this equipment as soon as she strong enough or is capable of handling many bodily functions herself, yet, many times a preemie seems to go back and forth for a little while.
As a preemie begins to steadily get stronger and medical needs lessen, it is soon time to go home.
Many a preemie has been sent home with medical equipment that their parents have been trained to use in case of an emergency. This is a scary time and an exciting time for parents because they are now in control, not quite sure if they can handle emergencies but desperately wanting to get down to the “normal” part of life, raising their preemie. These resilient, warrior-parents do quite well continuing to fight for their baby and are very in-tune to even the smallest details.
Many preemies continue to have health issues that they struggle with for the rest of their lives. However, as technology advances, some of these problems can be controlled with surgery, medication, and other interventions. This is a preemie!
Having a preemie can be overwhelming. You will go through so many emotions as you learn how to navigate this complicated and complex world of NICU parenting and beyond. There will be challenges and some days (and nights), you may wonder when the end is in sight. But in the end, it will all be worth it- both for you and for your preemie.