Learn about the risks that come with premature delivery.
Premature baby tiny toes and feet

Q. How early can my baby be born without dying or having severe birth defects?

A. Only 10 years ago, a fetus wasn't considered viable until 28 weeks, but now more than half of all babies born at 24 weeks can survive. However, there are still serious risks associated with premature birth, including neurological impairments and death, and premature children are 50 percent more likely to need special education classes

Among premature babies, those born between 35 and 37 weeks have the best chance of being healthy because they generally have mature lungs and don't need a tube to breathe. They may have trouble sucking or swallowing, and they may have jaundice. However, these babies can be treated immediately and often can go right home with you.

Babies born between 32 and 35 weeks may take a little longer to learn to control their body temperature, and some will need help breathing. Special techniques may be used to help these babies eat because sucking and swallowing may be a difficult task. Most of these children go on to develop normally; however, preemies of this age may be more likely to contract infections because of their immature immune systems.

Babies born between 27 and 32 weeks will probably weigh no more than 4 pounds. At least 80 percent of these babies develop normally, but many will need help breathing temporarily, even if their mothers were given steroids to help their babies' lungs mature faster. These babies are also more at risk than full-term infants for infection, feeding difficulties, vision problems, and gastrointestinal illnesses.

Babies born between 24 and 27 weeks have a higher death rate, but many survive. Not surprisingly these children suffer the most complications, and as many as 60 percent will need special help in school.

Always remember that every baby is different. Your premature baby may be 10 times feistier than another woman?s baby born just as early.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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