What are some of the most common problems associated with a premature birth?
The pediatrician answers:
Preemies (premature babies) can have problems with lung maturity and require ventilator support for varying lengths of time. Babies who are on the ventilator a long time can develop a chronic lung problem which may take several years to heal. They are also more prone to respiratory infections and wheezing in the first years of life.
Preemies also are at greater risk of developmental problems than term infants and may need closer developmental follow-up. Their immune systems are weaker and they may tend to get sick more easily. (Preemies given their mom's breastmilk have a much decreased risk of infection than artificially fed preemies, by the way, so it's well worth the effort to pump breastmilk for a preemie and then transfer them to the breast directly when they are able to eat.)
How well an individual preemie will do depends on the degree of prematurity (the earlier/more immature the baby is when it is born, the more likely the risk of problems), and the number and severity of complications in the neonatal period. Care of preemies has advanced a lot over the past 20 years, so even very small immature preemies often will do very well after they "graduate" from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).