Preterm delivery of an infant can have devastating consequences for both the infant and the entire family.
The earlier the child is born, the greater the risk of permanent disability or death. Many babies who are born too soon end up having to spend the first months of their lives in an expensive neonatal intensive care unit, where they can be watched around the clock by nurses and doctors.
Some preterm infants have skin that is so thin that they literally cannot be touched without special gloves. Because preterm infants lack the necessary layer of fat that full-term infants have, they can’t regulate their body temperature. Many have under-developed lungs and can have serious breathing difficulties. If the breathing difficulties are strong enough, your baby’s organs, including his or her brain, may not get enough oxygen, which can affect development.
If your baby survives, these problems can continue even after you bring your child home. Some infants who are born too early never fully develop and are left with permanent disabilities like blindness, deafness and developmental delays. Those born the earliest often suffer from epilepsy, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and psychological disorders.
Studies on the long-term effects of preterm delivery show that a lower gestational age is even associated with a reduced chance of completing high school and an increased likelihood of having a lower income or being on Social Security.
The effects of a preterm delivery are likely to be felt throughout the family. An infant with serious physical problems can demand the majority of a family’s emotional and physical energy and the costs of caring for the child can escalate quickly. Complicating matters further, one parent may have to stop working because the infant may not be able to be placed in a child care center or stay with a babysitter who isn’t prepared to deal with the potential crisis situations that can arise.
There are numerous causes for preterm labor and not all of them are preventable. However, sometimes the early delivery is the result of a failure on the part of the obstetrician in charge of the mother’s care. Signs of neonatal distress, illness in the mother, infections or early contractions may have been ignored until it was too late to halt the early delivery.
If you believe that your doctor could have done more to prevent your infant’s early delivery, please take a look at our web pages on birth injuries and similar topics.