Near-Term Newborns Have Special Health Needs

Though not as frail as tiny preemies, babies born three to six weeks early are still at greater risk than full-term newborns for potentially serious health problems.

Near-term infants, who account for around 6 percent of all well-baby births, are more likely to experience breathing problems, feeding problems, body temperature instability and jaundice.

"They have not had the benefit of those extra days of incubation within their mother's womb," says Karen Peddicord, director of research, education and publications for the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). "Because of this, they are at risk for a certain set of complications."

Yet near-term babies don't always get the special consideration that they need. "Despite being born early, these babies are all too frequently treated in the same manner as full-term newborns," Peddicord says. "It is important for parents to understand that these near-term infants may face different and more serious health problems than most full-term infants, and to be alert for the special situations or needs that may arise because a baby is just a few weeks early."

Specifically, parents of near-term infants should pay closer attention to:

  • Feeding Time - These babies don't eat as much and might need to be fed more often than full-term infants. They could also have trouble coordinating sucking and swallowing, and will not always wake up when they need to eat.
  • Breathing Problems - Parents of near-term babies also need to watch for irregular or difficulty breathing.
  • Room Temperature - Because near-term babies have less body fat, they are less able to regulate their internal body temperatures and need to be kept away from drafts.
  • Overall Health - These babies' immature immune systems tend to make them prone to infections and jaundice, a symptom of a condition called hyperbilirubinemia, which can lead to severe nervous system damage if not treated early.

AWHONN recommends that parents of near-term infants ask their health-care provider the following questions before leaving the hospital:

  • How often should I bring my baby in for examinations?
  • What is the minimum number of times that I should feed him or her each day?
  • What is the longest period of time I should let him or her go without eating?
  • What sorts of things should I be watching out for in terms of behavior or appearance?
  • How will I know if I should call you and how do I reach you?

Christina Elston is a health writer and editor for Dominion Parenting Media and Parenthood.com.

© Parenthood.com, used with permission.

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