Preterm babies are usually expected to have health complications associated with their early arrival. However, this is not always as the case as some experience minor complications whose effects do not last a lifetime. The long-term complications are those that they have to cope with on a daily basis and may become severe over time if not managed well. Even so, it is important for mums in Kenya that give birth to preterm babies to seek medical attention as often as possible so that any complications can be treated early enough.
Most times, preterm babies in Kenya suffer from a wide array of health complications in different parts of their body. Some of the most common organs that are affected by babies born before their due date include:
• Brain – Babies born before the 37th week may suffer from mild or severe bleeding in the brain. If the bleeding is mild, it is likely to resolve itself posing no danger to the preterm baby. However, a lot of bleeding in the brain can result in permanent damage or fluid accumulation that can only be relieved through a delicate operation. Among the long term health conditions related to the underdevelopment of the brain for preterm babies is cerebral palsy.
• Heart – Heart defects which vary depending on how early a baby is born are common with preterm children. These defects affect the normal functioning of the heart and may also lead to the baby’s blood pressure being lower than required. In some cases, the heart defects may repair on their own but some need to be operated on to avoid future complications or even heart failure.
• Eyes – Preterm babies can also have vision problems of varying magnitudes that can result in impaired vision or total blindness if not treated early. Some of the common eye problems for babies born before 37 weeks include retinal detachment where the retina and the eye are separate from each other and retinopathy where the blood vessels in the eyes swell and overgrow covering or scarring the baby’s retina.
• Blood – Anaemia and jaundice are common health complications for preterm babies because their blood is not producing enough red blood cells or there is excess production of bilirubin. These blood problems need to be monitored carefully to minimise the development of jaundice and other related health conditions.
• Immune system – Most preterm babies are born with an immune system that is undeveloped making them an easy target for infections. Infections such as sepsis, which attack the bloodstream can be fatal if not treated in time.
• Respiratory system – Preterm babies are often born with a respiratory system that is underdeveloped leading to breathing problems. These problems may be mild or chronic but need to be monitored and treated to minimise their development into long term complications for the baby.
Overall, it is good to note that with proper medical treatment, many preterm babies in Kenya have managed to grow into healthy children with no health issues throughout their life.