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Ages & Stages

Preemie Health Concerns

My baby was born premature. Will she have any health problems as a result?

Premature infants are not as fully developed as full-term babies. That is why they have a somewhat higher risk for certain health problems.

Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS)

What It Is:

RDS is a breathing problem caused by immature lungs. Premature infants' lungs may lack a liquid substance called surfactant that gives fully developed lungs the elastic qualities required for easy breathing. Without surfactant, the lungs tend to collapse, forcing a tiny baby to work harder to breathe.


Many infants will require a ventilator, or respirator, to breathe for them. Artificial surfactants are now available and are very effective in treating RDS. Many babies respond very well to this treatment. Lung problems in premature infants usually improve within several days to several weeks.

Chronic Lung Disease/Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD)

What It Is:

Babies who need oxygen for more than a month are described as having bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) or chronic lung disease. They may need oxygen and other treatments for several weeks or months.


Babies often outgrow BPD as their lungs mature and grow, although some premature infants continue to require oxygen when they go home.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

What It Is:

RSV is the leading cause of lower respiratory tract illness in infants and children. In the United States, RSV outbreaks usually occur between October and May. Infants who get RSV may develop apnea (pauses in a baby's breathing that last more than 15 seconds); bronchiolitis (an infection of the small breathing tubes of the lungs); or long-term lung problems. Premature infants and babies with BPD are at highest risk for complications from RSV infection.

Prevention and Treatment:

RSV is very contagious. It can be spread in the hospital or after babies are sent home. Make sure that family and friends who visit your new baby do not have colds or other infections. Ask them to wash their hands before touching your baby. There is no proven effective treatment for RSV infection. As a result, your pediatrician may recommend medication to prevent RSV infection if your baby is at very high risk for serious complications.

Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)

What It Is:

ROP is an eye disease that occurs when part of the eye, called the retina, has not fully developed.


Most cases of ROP are mild and will resolve without treatment. However, in some cases ROP can result in serious vision problems. Severe cases of ROP are often treated with surgery. Your pediatrician will talk to you about this treatment if it is needed.

Apnea and Bradycardia

What It Is:

Apnea refers to pauses in your baby's breathing that last more than 15 seconds. This is common in preterm babies. When apnea occurs, the heart rate will often decrease as well. This is called bradycardia.


If your baby has apnea spells, your pediatrician may prescribe a medicine to help regulate breathing. Your baby's heart and breathing will also be watched by monitors. Most premature babies outgrow this before they go home. If your baby does not, he may need a home apnea monitor.


What It Is:

Jaundice happens because a baby's liver has not matured enough to completely filter a yellowish substance called bilirubin from the blood. Newborns often produce more bilirubin than their livers can handle.


Most cases can be treated effectively by placing the baby under special lights. During the treatment, most of the baby's skin is exposed and his eyes are covered to protect them from the light.

Other Health Problems

Premature infants may also develop other conditions such as anemia of prematurity (low blood cell count) and heart murmurs. Heart murmurs are sounds that the flow of blood makes as it goes through the heart. Your pediatrician and the other health care professionals caring for your baby will keep you informed about your baby's condition and progress.

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The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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