Baby at risk? Conditions that may affect preemies

Most premature babies have special health problems. Here are some of the conditions your baby may experience:


  • Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS): difficulty breathing caused by a lack of surfactant, a substance that normally prevents the lungs from collapsing
  • Apnea and bradycardia: apnea is any pause in breathing that lasts more than 20 seconds, and bradycardia is a slow heart rate
  • Transient tachypnea of the newborn (TTNB): fast breathing that occurs in the first few hours or days after birth and then goes away
  • Chronic lung disease or bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD): rapid or shallow breathing, wheezing, and crackling sound in the lungs that can last even after the baby goes home
  • Pneumonia: infection that causes inflammation of the air sacs of the lungs that can interfere with the lungs' ability to transfer oxygen to the blood.

Heart and blood pressure

  • Patent ductus arteriosis (PDA): a small hole in the heart that normally closes by itself, but may be more likely to stay open in preemies (it can be closed using medications or a simple operation)
  • Low blood pressure

Other problems

  • Jaundice: yellowing of the skin or eyes because the liver has not developed well enough to remove bilirubin, a substance produced when red blood cells are broken down (excess bilirubin causes the yellow color)
  • Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP): abnormal growth of blood vessels in the eye that may lead to vision problems
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis: a serious condition causing tissue in the bowel to die
  • Blood sugar problems: blood sugar levels may be too high or too low (this does not mean that your child will develop diabetes later)
  • It's important to realize that not all preemies will have these health conditions. Speak to your doctor if you are concerned about your baby's health.

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