Friday, August 5, 2011

Prematurity at Two and a Half

Say, were y'all aware that the Babby was born at 34 weeks gestation instead of the usual 40ish? It's true, I had a preemie, and not the kind born in a cabbage patch. I wrote about the Babby's birth here, but I don't recall that I really conveyed the absolute terror that comes with being told you're in active labor a month and a half before your baby's due date.

long term effects of prematurity

Long story short: I walked to the midwives' office thinking I was having an IBS flare up, and ended up being rolled across the parking lot in a wheel chair being assured that lots of women are as dilated as I was and still make it to full term. I was pumped full of fluids and drugs while being assured that lots of women have contractions like mine and still make it to full term. It was only after a negative fetal fibronectin test and consequently being sent home that I believed, just a little, that I might actually make it to full term. With bed rest. And popping terbutaline. Ha.

Returned to the hospital for steroids and naturally admitting contractions led straight to admission to maternity. We hadn't taken any childbirth classes. We had no crib (not that we'd use one for another eight or so months). We were, in short, flying blind. Were it not for my amazing midwife who was with me the whole time and kept the dour OB at bay, I probably would have lost my stuff in a big way. As it was, except for all the screaming, I kept my cool. Even won $5 off my mom because I didn't say any swears!

But enough of my little walk down memory lane...

The combined effect of the Babby's early arrival might be nothing more than 12 days in the NICU, a whole lot of breast feeding stress, and a year of Early Intervention. Or it might be all sorts of things that haven't become apparent yet. A Time story entitled *How Long Do the Effects of Being Born Premature Last? Until Adulthoo*' outlines the longest-running U.S. study of the effects of being born premature, in which 213 infants born between 24 to 34 weeks from birth until age 23. The results were interesting.

On the one hand, premature babies struggle more in school and social situations, are less healthy and stand a greater chance of having heart-related problems as adults, reports Mary Sullivan, a professor of nursing at the University of Rhode Island and principal investigator of the study, which has tracked 213 infants who are now 23. But despite that, premature babies are also driven to succeed, a characteristic that can be encouraged by nurturing parents and supportive school environments.

Now the Babby is generally healthy - a few colds here and there and the recent bug, but that's it if you don't count being underweight by quite a big margin for most of her little life. She is most definitely a shy guy as opposed to a social butterfly, unless she's in her element and there's flirting involved. Now I'm not one to go all gaga when it comes to achievements, but we've been told time and again that the Babby's grasp of verbal language and her ability to express herself is pretty darn special. That's pretty sweet!

But then there are the things that I wonder about. The Babby can be a lot less confident than her peers when it comes to physical accomplishments like climbing (though her balance is excellent) and I would wager that her muscle tone is less developed. (BUT I am also less confident when it comes to climbing than MY peers and my muscle tone is also pretty crap.) And she seems to be trailing her peers when it comes to things like the alphabet and possibly also numbers, though maybe not since this isn't a race and also I will cop to being not quite as good as I ought to be about pushing the educational biggies. Plus none of the TV she watches is teaching her letters, either, because all this kid wants is dinos.

Which I only bring up because I learned the alphabet early on from Sesame Street, back when Sesame Street was pretty awesome.

Is any of the above related to the long term effects of prematurity? Who knows! I sure don't, though I have wondered. And study after study is revealing that even really late term prematurity - think 38 weeks versus 40 - can have a bigger impact than previously assumed. Higher autism rates, though I'm pretty sure we're in the clear there. Heart and breathing issues in adulthood. Learning difficulties that don't actually manifest until school. That sort of thing.

I'm totally okay with the Babby being underweight and short and socially awkward, but heart problems? No thanks! So I keep an eye out, keep up with the research, and cross my fingers because there's no way to know at the mo' what the long term effects of prematurity - in this case, late term prematurity - will be.


  1. My sis was born 6 weeks premature and is now 26. She is healthy but has thyroid issues which my mom attributes to her prematurity, as no one in the family has that. Um, I realize this doesn't help but my sister is smarter than me and more opinionated, and I was full term, so maybe there are benefits too. :)
    Babby is lucky to have such an attentive mama that will monitor her development. I want to tell you everything will be just fine but I know as a mom it's second nature to be constantly vigilant.

  2. Dude...Everett will be three at the end of next month and he can only count to 3 and while he can identify that a symbol is a letter he can not identify the letter itself. Everything is "letter T". Colors? Not a chance. Everything is blue to him.

    I have to remind myself that he's not in a race too. He'll get there. And so will she.

  3. @gin Thanks for the reassurance! I guess as a mama, it's natural to worry and try to analyze every little thing. I'm usually pretty good about this, actually, but prematurity is suddenly all over the news, heh.

    @Audrey Heh, the Babby knows 'O'. Somehow she got really into O - maybe because it's a circle. But O is it.

    It IS tough to remember it's not a race or even something graded at this time. Especially for me, I think, because I have a group of friends who all have kiddos that were born literally within days of the Babby. So it's tempting to look at them and what they're doing and compare, but it's also a silly thing to do!

  4. I think the reason for the prematurity probably plays a large roll in future health issues. Going into labor early isn't totally ideal, but if it's natural and you still get the flow of hormones, the baby is probably in better shape than an emergency C-Section because of eclampsia.

  5. Oh for sure, Nikki! The Babby was born healthy with good Apgars at 34 weeks because she was healthy and I was healthy and my labor was spontaneous. (And I'm possibly also just predisposed bc my mom was a month or so early.) But some born at 34 weeks are born early because they're not healthy or the mom isn't healthy and I think it would follow that there would be more issues there (with some babies born at the same time as the Babby being really unhealthy and even dying).

    The main issue that a late-term preemie who is healthy would have, other than growth concerns which we've been through since day 1 and are just outgrowing now, is whether brain growth outside the womb is as good as brain growth inside. OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT, says the non-scientist. Like so:

  6. Maybe we could just loop the dinosaur alphabet song from Dinosaur Train for a few days?

    A! Apatosaurus!
    B! Brachiosaurus!

  7. Babby Daddy has it! Good God, but I get that damn song stuck in my head. Also, I have a secret naughty version that I think. :)

    Could have written this post, with Pea born at 35.5 weeks and so forth. And I have the guilt of no breastfeeding, either! Formula and disposable diapers all the way. I'm sure she'll be in therapy for years as a result.

    What my pediatrician told me: she'll get her alphabet down when she's interested in it, ditto numbers. I taught myself to read at 3 and am baffled that Pea didn't do the same, and then I think, oh, yeah, she's not me. (I didn't learn a gazillion dinosaurs, either.) Different interests.

    BTW: You can totally get the Electric Company on DVD. Those things are still awesome to watch!

  8. I don't doubt for a second that the Babby will continue to thrive and be healthy. not. one. second.

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