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What You Should Know About Gastrointestinal Problems In Premature Babies

The gestation period for human babies is 37-40 weeks. This is the maximum time required for the baby to grow and develop. Out of this, the final few weeks of pregnancy are very important as it is the time when the foetus's organs begin to mature, so that they can function normally when the baby is out in the world. Also, this is the time when the baby will store energy and build up fat reserves in its body to protect itself from the change in temperature.

Sometimes, due to various complications resulting from external as well as internal reasons, babies are born before the due date. This results in premature babies. While the effect of a preterm delivery may depend on how early the baby was born, it is nevertheless something to worry about.

Babies born before their full term are classified as premature babies. Any baby born before 39 weeks may have to be kept under observation because their organs are not fully developed and also may be grossly underweight.


Common Problems In Preemies

Problems with breathing and digestion are most common in preterm babies. In fact, they have a hard time sucking and swallowing as well. They may not know how to regulate their body temperature which may make them cold and susceptible to illnesses. This is the reason why a majority of preterm babies develop jaundice a few hours after their birth. But the biggest problems faced while taking care of a premature baby is the digestive issues.


Gastrointestinal Problems In Preemies

Preterm babies have underdeveloped gastrointestinal systems, resulting in a lot of complications such as indigestion, colic, acid reflux, etc. Though all this can be treated with proper care and precautions, the one thing that spells absolute nightmare for mothers of preemies is a condition called necrotising enterocolitis (NEC).


What Is Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC) And How Is It Caused?

Necrotising enterocolitis is a condition that affects the intestines of newborn babies, mostly preterm ones. It is the condition where the intestines of the baby slowly deteriorate. The bacteria naturally present in the intestines then make their way to the abdomen and cause an infection. This is considered to be a very serious condition that affects the newborn preemies two-three weeks after birth.

The main reason for the deteriorating of the intestines is believed to be poor blood circulation. This weakens the intestines and may result in their failure. The walls slowly form a hole, giving the bacteria access to the delicate organs in the abdomen.


Treatment For Necrotising Enterocolitis

The most common giveaway for necrotising enterocolitis is painful swelling in the abdominal area of the baby. If you also notice blood in its stools, it is time to get them checked. The doctor will examine the abdominal area through an X-ray to determine the condition of the intestines.

The treatment of the condition usually depends on how severely your baby is affected by it. The first will be to stop feeding the baby as they will be put on IV fluids. A regular dose of antibiotics will then help the baby fight off the infection. Some babies who find it difficult to breathe due to a swollen abdomen may need breathing assistance.

The doctor may also prescribe surgery if there is a lot of damage done to the intestines in order to extract the damaged parts.


Complications Related To Necrotising Enterocolitis

Although necrotising enterocolitis affects 5%-10% of preemies, it is still something to be worried about. While most babies recover normally to lead a healthy life if the condition is diagnosed and treated early, some babies develop problems such as intestinal blockage due to bowels not moving smoothly. Babies who have had a part of their intestines removed due to excess damage may suffer from malabsorption, where the intestines do not completely absorb the nutrients in the food.

A preterm baby may need a whole lot of love and care. It is important to listen to your doctor keenly and follow their instructions. Keep a constant eye on them and rush to a doctor immediately if you notice that your preemie is having a problem. Timely treatment will surely save you and your little one a whole lot of trouble.

Read more about: babies
Story first published: Friday, September 14, 2018, 16:33 [IST]
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