Keep your chin up and take care of your baby. One aspect you should concentrate on is that the outcomes of a 31 weeks gestation baby are far better than a 26 weeks gestation baby. Every week matters and makes a huge difference in the outcome. Our paediatricians and neonatologists nowadays are very smart and are able to improve the outcomes for preterm babies, both in the short term and the long term. We also have allied health providers able to rectify most disabilities before reaching young adulthood.
The severity of the potential long term health problems depends on a few factors, mainly the presence of any abnormalities on brain scans, neurological symptoms such as seizures at birth and very low birth weight (<1.5 kg).
The worst-case-scenario long term consequences for a 31 week baby can involve one or more of the following:
- Risk of 3 or more hospitalisations for Respiratory infections and gastroenteritis is increased by 10% (Between 9 months and 5 years of age)
- May require Oxygen supplementation on discharge from NICU (This is weaned off and no longer required shortly after discharge)
- Increased risk of SIDS (Back sleeping position always for the first year)
- Reflux which may cause poor weight gain, coughing and chocking (Managed with positioning and medications and usually resolves within a year)
- Low blood count which is rectified with extra formula containing iron
- Eye problems such as myopia and astigmatism (Rectified by a visit to the ophthalmologist)
- Mild hearing deficit- Hearing checks required
- Increased risk of Cerebral Palsy (8%)
- 20% risk of mild Cognitive and learning deficits
- 30% will require special healthcare services (physiotherapist, speech therapist, occupational therapist)
- Increased risk of ADHD and Autism
All these risks increase with decreasing gestational age.
Despite the initial disabilities, individuals who are born preterm can overcome difficulties and lead functional lives similar to those born at term. Both the adults and their parents state they have a good Quality of Life.
I have previously worked in large tertiary centres that care for preterm babies and I did counsel my patients about the sequelae of preterm delivery; but your neonatologist remains the most knowledgeable. Now you have the information with which you can approach your neonatologist and discuss the future. Be sure to ask as many questions as you can.
All the best.
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