Prematurely born children are prone to a number of health complications, both immediately after birth and in a longer time perspective. However, in most cases they can catch up with children born on time. The only conditions are the continuous monitoring of their development and specialist medical care.
According to Professor Ewa Helwich, national consultant on neonatology, the group of premature infants encompasses both children born after the 23rd week of pregnancy and just before the 37th week.
“In Poland approx. 6% of children are born prematurely, and the smallest and the most prone to complications account for 1.5%. Children born after the 30th week of pregnancy are much more likely to catch up with their peers born on time," she adds.
A long list of possible complications
Major complications involve the lungs, which results from the fact that prematurely born children often require breathing support with a range of equipment, and the disrupted lung development in the future may lead, e.g. to bronchial asthma.
“Brain-related complications are another problem, as premature infants are prone to strokes, which may lead to irreversible developmental changes," Professor Helwich adds. “That’s why it is so important to make sure that premature infants are born in specialist centres, where doctors can take care of them from the first moment of their lives. In this way, children can avoid being transported to a different location, which could compromise their health.
Premature infants can also suffer from abdominal complications, such as intestinal perforation or certain food intolerance. Such children are also more vulnerable to infections due to their underdeveloped immune system, as well as to an increased risk of eyesight problems, their retinas being still immature.
Specialised medical care for premature infants
“The prerequisite for the proper development of premature infants is the thorough supervision of their development so as to identify any irregularities on time and respond to them with treatment or rehabilitation," says Professor Helwich, the author of the medical care programme for premature infants, which has been preliminarily approved by the Ministry of Health. “More and more prematurely born infants are able to survive, and as the cases are becoming increasingly complicated, establishing such a programme is essential," Professor explains.
According to Professor Helwich, in each voivodeship city there should be a healthcare centre for premature infants, where children within one day could be examined by a team of specialists in various fields and their health and development would be comprehensively evaluated. “It is a problem for parents not living in large cities to come to appointments with various specialists, scheduled for different days," she adds.
It should also be pointed out that the development pattern of a premature infant varies from that of a child born on time. As Professor Helwich emphasised, the standard care provided by primary healthcare physicians and paediatricians is not enough.
“Prematurely born infants should be taken care of by a team of specialists in various fields within appointments taking place, for instance, four times a year, during which the child’s development is comprehensively assessed," Professor Helwich claims.
The national consultant also pointed out that physicians should inform the parents of premature infants on the possible complications, but also on opportunities for a healthy development under the supervision of specialists.