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A birth is marked as premature or, in other words, preterm when an infant is born earlier than the 37th week of gestation. The regular period of gestation in humans lasts about 40 weeks, which is equal to nine months.
The final weeks before birth are crucial for an infant not only to gain weight that can be considered healthy but also for the complete development of its vital organs, including its kidneys, lungs, and brain. Since premature babies are unable to go through these vital developments, they usually end up with medical conditions for which they have to stay in the hospital longer.
Premature birth, when not taken care of properly, can lead to the infant developing serious long-term health issues like physical disabilities or intellectual disabilities.
In the past, premature birth was usually followed by the death of the infant. Today, however, with an increase in awareness, premature infants can survive. While the quality of newborn healthcare has improved a great deal, premature birth is still seen as the main cause of infant death on a global level. It Is also among the leading causes of neurological disorders in children.
Can a Premature Infant Survive at 19 Weeks?
A 19-week-old fetus’ organs are still going through the development stage, and the vital organs have still now grown normally. It is usually difficult for a premature infant to survive at this stage of development.
What Happens to a Fetus at 19 Weeks?
A fetus at 19 weeks weighs around 200 to 240 grams. The fetus’ arms and legs at this stage are in proportion to the rest of its body. The hair on the fetus’ scalp has begun to grow, and the kidneys continue to produce urine. The infant’s sweat glands begin to produce a white oil-like substance known as “fetal sebum,” which has waterproofing properties that help protect the fetus’ skin from corrosion from being in the amniotic fluid for such a long time.
When the fetus turns 19 weeks old, the fundus of its mother’s uterus will continue to rise by 1 cm every passing week. While the womb may seem quiet and inactive, the fetus may be able to hear nearly everything in the mother’s surroundings. These sounds usually include the sound of the mother’s blood flowing through her blood vessels, the groans and murmurs of digestion in the stomach, and the mother’s voice.
Expecting mothers often talk to their babies at this stage, but even if they do not, the baby can still hear them conversing with others. Mothers often have problems sleeping as well due to their infant tossing and turning inside them.
What Are the Factors That Lead to Premature Birth?
There are many factors that lead to the mother giving birth prematurely, although they are not all of the same nature:
Complications in Pregnancy
Health complications like gestational diabetes, an excess of amniotic fluid, preeclampsia, detached placenta and problematic placenta often lead to the mother giving birth earlier than expected.
Structural Abnormalities in the Uterus and Cervix
Serious uterine deformities or other structural anomalies can make it tough for the mother to carry her baby for the expected amount of time. This can be related to problems in the cervix.
It has been observed by researchers that severe psychological stress can lead to the release of unnecessary hormones, which can trigger contractions in the uterus and ultimately result in premature birth.
Gum Infections (Periodontal Diseases)
While pregnant women are more vulnerable to pregnancy hormones that have been associated with premature deliveries, gum infections could be a cause as well. Some experts believe that the bacteria that cause inflamed gums can enter the mother’s bloodstream, reach the fetus, and trigger early delivery.
Another possibility that other studies have brought forth is that the build-up of bacteria that cause gun inflammation can trigger the mother’s immune system, resulting in the inflammation of the uterus and cervix, leading to early labor.
Extreme physical work pressure is also known to result in the mother giving premature birth. Researchers have concluded that expecting mothers who stand for a time longer than recommended or ones whose work is very tiring are more likely to go into labor earlier than expected.
Uterine and Vaginal Infections During Gestation
Infections occurring in the reproductive tract as well as those in the uterus and amniotic fluid are believed to be responsible for nearly half of the premature births. Experts have deduced that the infections lead to inflammation, which leads to the secretion of prostaglandins (the very substance that is released when pregnant women start going into labor at full term). Treatment of infections in the urinary tract can also lead to premature labor.
How Can Premature Infants Be Taken Care Of?
Preterm newborns should be kept in a calm and quiet environment for four hours after entering the maternity room. The head of the infant should be turned sideways to allow the mucus in the mouth to flow out easily. Lightly change this position every two to three hours.
The infant’s body temperature should also be monitored every four hours. The difference between the highest temperature and the lowest temperature each day must not exceed 1 degree Celsius. If the temperature happens to stabilize at 36-37 degrees Celsius for more than three check-ups, the temperature check can be reduced to one time each day in the morning and afternoon. If the body temperature of the infant happens to be above 37 degrees or lower than 36 degrees, it must be monitored every four hours.
Oxygen therapy should only be used if the baby has difficulties breathing or if they have bruising or poor conditions. This method should not be used on a routine basis. The bruising generally disappears after the infant is administered oxygen therapy for a few hours, and it stops when the infant’s breathing turns to normal. For instance, premature infants weighing less than 1000 grams can be provided oxygen for one day and one night. It is advisable not to continue providing oxygen for more than three days.
It is discouraged to release oxygen in very high concentration for longer than recommended as this can cause damage to the infant’s eyes and lungs. Infants that are susceptible to cyanosis during feeding can be provided oxygen therapy a few minutes before and after feeding.
Premature babies can be bathed after the umbilical cord is detached and the wound has healed. If not bathed, the upper body of the infant can be scrubbed gently in the incubator. The upper torso is then wrapped before going on to washing the buttocks and legs. If an infant weighs less than 1000 grams, disinfected vegetable oil or talcum powder can be used to gently rub the baby’s wrinkles to protect their skin.
Most premature infants lack the ability to feed properly because they are unable to swallow or suckle. These infants are recommended to be fed nutrients with a small tube that goes via their nose or mouth into their stomachs or through intravenous methods. As soon as the baby starts to build up strength to suckle and swallow, they can be moved on to being bottle-fed or breastfed.
How Can Premature Birth Be Prevented?
Receiving proper prenatal care can reduce the chances of a mother giving birth to a premature infant. It can be further prevented in the following ways:
Drinking Plenty of Water Daily
Hydration is the key to having good health. It is usually recommended to drink two liters per day or more if the expecting mother exercises.
It is recommended for mothers-to-be to include a lot of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and plenty of whole grains in their diet. It is also best to take supplements like folic acid and calcium to ensure good health.
Not Indulging in Smoking or Illegal Drugs
Harmful activities like smoking, the use of illegal drugs, or even over-ingesting specific pharmaceutical drugs can lead to birth defects, premature birth, or even miscarriage.
Mothers having a history of premature deliveries or hypertension may be recommended by their gynecologists to take their recommended dosage of aspirin daily.
It should be of note that it is highly unlikely for an infant to survive if born at 19 weeks since the infant’s organs are not fully developed and lack the proper functionality to survive. Infants born earlier than 23 weeks of conception also have particularly low chances at survival.
If infants born at 19 weeks do end up surviving, they still run the very possible risk of developing health complications or long-term disabilities.
Parents or mothers expecting a premature child or having a child prematurely born must talk in full detail with the doctor so that they can be prepared and receive the support they may need.