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A premature child is exposed to numerous problems, since she lacks reserves and since many bodily functions are not yet fully developed.

Respiratory distress syndrome

The condition is the most frequent health problem experienced by preterm babies, because their lungs are not yet fully developed. That’s why some babies must be placed on a respirator.

Abnormal lung growth

This complication occurs in newborns born before the 32nd week of pregnancy and who received oxygen by respirator over a long period.

Temporary cessation of breathing and irregular heart rate

Since the brain is not yet full developed, breathing and heart rate are not completely controlled. Preemies therefore have respiratory and cardiac irregularities, and are often connected to a cardiorespiratory monitor that surveys their vital signs.

Gastroesophageal reflux

The muscle that opens the stomach is not yet fully developed in preemies, which enables the stomach contents to return up the esophagus. About 3 to 10% of very premature babies suffer from gastroesophageal reflux.


Premature babies frequently have this condition because their liver is immature, and feeding is often delayed. Jaundice is treated with phototherapy.


Preemies are at greater risk of suffering from anemia, since about 80% of a baby’s iron reserves are stored during the last trimester of pregnancy. Rapid growth after birth also contributes to this risk.


Premature babies have a greater risk of developing infections because of their fragile and permeable skin, underdeveloped immune system, low weight, and countless medical procedures. Infections can develop during pregnancy, at birth or during hospitalization, and are generally treated with antibiotics.

Brain damage

Brain hemorrhaging affects 30% of babies born before 30 weeks or weighing less than 1500 grams, since some brain zones are fragile and blood vessels may bleed if the pressure increases. The consequences vary according to the seriousness of the bleeding. Simple interventions can prevent this hemorrhaging, however.

Necrotizing enterocolitis

An inflammation of the intestine that can be fatal, this complication occurs mainly within the first two weeks after birth, and affects 5 to 10% of babies weighing less than 1500 g.

Heart malformation

Some preterm children may suffer from a heart murmur, because their arterial canal (ductus arteriosus) has not had time to close.


Hearing is often not fully developed in preemies. It is estimated that 2 to 10% of babies born at or before 32  weeks of pregnancy have hearing problems.


This condition affecting preterm babies’ eyes consists of abnormal growth of the eye blood vessels, which makes the retina (the membrane covering the back of the eye) detach. The principal cause is administration of oxygen. Retinopathy affects mainly babies born before 28 weeks and can sometimes cause loss of vision.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection can be serious and affects the lungs and airways.
It is most common in preemies and remains the most common cause of lower respiratory tract infection.

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Because of these countless possible complications, a premature baby may be kept in the hospital’s neonatal unit for weeks and even months after birth. For example, a baby born before the 28th week of pregnancy will stay at the hospital until the original due date. A baby born between the 35th and 36th week will leave the hospital after the usual time period.