Hope for Preemies

Reducing the Risk of Death

  • Warming preemies in flatbeds with a heater above them or in incubators with humidity regulators to maintain optimum body temperatures
  • Hooking them up to finely tuned, computerized neonatal ventilators that monitor and aid their breathing, reduce their risk of death, and help prevent lingering lung problems
  • Using less-potent antibiotics and stopping them as quickly as possible to avoid side effects, such as organ damage and compromised immune systems that would make the infants more susceptible to infection later
  • Monitoring babies for signs of pain and providing relief through simple strategies -- such as shifting their position, swaddling them, giving them a pacifier -- or, if necessary, by administering opiate medication, such as morphine

  • Coating preemies' lungs with surfactant, a soap-like substance that makes breathing easier
  • Introducing pumped breast milk, along with a nutritional supplement, within the first few days
  • Encouraging kangaroo (skin-to-skin) care with mothers (and occasionally fathers), who hold their infants on their breast to soothe them and help them maintain body temperature
  • Fostering bonding by encouraging parents to visit their babies often -- to sing to them, tell them stories, and comfort them with the familiar sound of their voices

Three recent cutting-edge studies provide additional hope for the future. Research at the University of Chicago has found that giving nitric oxide as an inhalant to premature babies with breathing problems can reduce the incidence of chronic lung disease. Early data from an Australian study indicates that magnesium sulfate given intravenously to women about to give birth prematurely can help reduce both death and cerebral palsy in infants. And a study conducted at Yale University suggests that preemies who are exposed to cycling lights that mimic day and night in the NICU are more likely to develop healthier sleeping habits sooner.

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All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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