During a pregnancy, the baby grows in the mother's uterus (womb) usually for 38 to 40 weeks. When a baby is born prematurely (too early), the baby may require special medical
care. The level of extra care needed often depends on how early the birth
occurs. Premature babies weigh much less than full-term infants because they
have not had the full amount of time for growth inside the uterus.
Babies born very early in pregnancy are extremely small and fragile.
They may weigh less than 2 pounds. They require specialized intensive care
in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Doctors and nurses who work in NICUs have specialized education
to care for premature infants and their problems. Health problems for babies
who are born prematurely may not end when the baby goes home from the hospital.
They may need special medical care as they grow older.
The July 20, 2005, issue of JAMA includes an
article about the development of children who were born prematurely. This
Patient Page is adapted from one published in the February 12, 2003, issue.
Inability to breathe or breathe regularly on their
own due to underdeveloped lungs
Body temperature regulation (the baby cannot maintain
his or her own body heat)
Feeding and growth problems because of an immature
Jaundice (yellowing of
skin and possible brain damage due to buildup of bilirubin, a blood breakdown product)
Anemia (not enough red
blood cells to carry oxygen to tissues)
Intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding
into the brain)
Apnea, episodes of stopping
breathing, which may require special monitoring, even at home
a chronic lung disease that may or may not improve as the child grows
Hearing or vision problems related to immature
nerves or treatment side effects
Developmental delay and learning disabilities from
brain damage related to immaturity
Because premature babies can be very ill, especially extremely premature
infants, decisions about treatments can be difficult for parents, doctors,
and nurses. Medical research studies provide information about treatments
and the likely course of an illness, but they cannot predict how each baby
will recover from being born too early.
Regular prenatal (before birth) medical care,
avoiding any exposure to tobacco smoke, avoiding alcohol and illegal substances,
and control of chronic medical problems are important during every pregnancy.
American Academy of Pediatrics 847/434-4000 http://www.aap.org
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development 800/370-2943 http://www.nichd.nih.gov
Nemours Foundation's Center for Children's Health
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page
Index on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. They are available in English and Spanish.
Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development, Nemours Foundation (KidsHealth)
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate
in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For
specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied
noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share
with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.
TOPIC: CHILD HEALTH
Torpy JM, Lynm C, Glass RM. Premature Infants. JAMA. 2005;294(3):390. doi:10.1001/jama.294.3.390