We've done national surveys of the general public for their perceptions of prematurity, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in the January-February 2003 issue. The two major misperceptions are that prematurity is not a serious problem and that it's the woman's fault if she delivers prematurely. There are ways that women can reduce their risks, but they can't eliminate them.
Depending upon how premature and how small they are, they're at greater risk of a number of serious, immediate and in some cases long-term effects of being premature. Most of these effects are seen in the very premature baby (less than 32 weeks), and those include death and immediate neurologic problems, and then that translates into risks of cerebral palsy, mental retardation, learning and behavior problems. It's been estimated that about half of all long-term serious neurologic problems in childhood are related to prematurity and low-birth weight. So that's huge, and if you think about hospitalization costs and costs to the family and special schools and equipment and difficulties, that translates into an enormous impact on society.
Very premature babies are also at risk for lung problems, trouble with feeding and growth, and trouble fighting off infections. Some of them have risks of permanent problems with vision and hearing.
The babies between 32 and 37 weeks have fewer risks, but they still have increased risks of some of these immediate and long-term ill effects compared to full-term babies.
Christine Haran is a staff medical writer/editor. Haran has been a health journalist for more than seven years, and her work has appeared in Woman's Day, MAMM Magazine, Bride's Magazine, Publishers Weekly and other publications. In 2003, she received an Excellence in Women's Health Research Journalism Award from the Society for Women's Health Research. Haran has a master's degree in journalism from New York University and a bachelor's degree in english from Skidmore College.
Copyright © Christine Haran. Permission to republish retained by Pregnancy.org, LLC.