Having a premature baby enters you into a whole new world that is full of medical jargon, strong emotions and things you never expected to happen in parenthood. Each month I will be writing a new blog going through what I think are good things to know. I hope you enjoy reading the preemie A-Z.

Apnoea

The most commonly referred to apnoea is probably sleep apnoea. This is where a person stops breathing for a period of time in their sleep. Some apnoea’s are mild so only last a few seconds and others are more concerning as they last a bit longer. An apnoea is considered to be any pause in breathing that is 20 seconds or longer.

Remember preemies are breathing a lot sooner than they should be so their lungs are a lot more immature so they seem to sometimes ‘forget’. This can cause their oxygen saturation levels to dip and it may mean that if they are ventilated that the machine helping them to breathe may be triggered to help a little bit more.

The part of the brain that controls breathing is not yet fully developed in premature babies. Usually by the time they would have been 36 weeks gestation the apnoea will correct itself. Premature babies are carefully monitored so if there is another cause for the apnoea that is not due to them being under developed then the medical team looking after them should pick up from other tests any other possibilities.

Anemia

This is where the red blood cell count in the baby’s blood stream is low. There can be many reasons for this. One of which is the mount of heel prick tests that are needed to be able to test the baby’s blood. A lot of premature babies rely on blood, platelet and plasma transfusions throughout their neonatal stay.

Anemia is actually common in term babies from around 2 to 3 months old. This gradually improves and there are normally no issues from about 2 years old. It can be treated simply through diet.

Preemies may struggle depending on the gestation they were born at. Whilst in utero the mother helps with the baby’s production of red blood cells. When they are born early it can mean that their bodies haven’t yet learnt how to do this yet. The vital blood tests needed even in the small quantities that the blood is taken can cause big dips in a preemie. This is why blood transfusions are given.

Asphyxia

This is where there is lack of oxygen making it to the tissue in the body. The brain and kidneys are the most affected by a lack of oxygen. There are many causes of asphyxia and a head ultrasound is usually done to diagnose it. Further tests can then be done to see if the asphyxia is mild, moderate or severe.

Asphyxia happens before, during or just after birth.

Aspiration

This is where foreign material is breathed into the lungs. This can be formula, meconium or stomach fluids. If this is left untreated it can lead to more serious problems such as pneumonia. You may see one of your baby’s medical team aspirating your baby, it is usually done with a thin clear plastic tubing. It is inserted down your baby’s throat and foreign material is gently sucked out. The colour will be observed as another way to monitor infection.

Anger

You may feel angry with the world, yourself or those closest to you. It’s so unfair that this has happened to you and your precious baby. It’s really important to realise it’s not your fault. It is also important to realise that to feel angry is normal. If it carries on for a prolonged period you may want to see a councillor or a therapist.

I wanted the preemie A-Z to cover more than just medical terms as it is a huge emotional roller coaster that you go through.

Upset woman. Photography credit: Kat J
Upset woman. Photography credit: Kat J

Anxiety

Your mind doesn’t like the unknown so it tries to fill in the blanks. These blanks are not always filled with positive thoughts, as human beings we tend to default to a negative thought process before a positive one. You start expecting the worse because it has happened to others. Or you have only ever seen bad outcomes on TV shows. I suffered from anxiety and one thing I found really useful from my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions was to keep reminding myself of new information.

This worked by thinking about what I was anxious about, what happened the first time it happened, why am I anxious this time? Then after the event I was anxious about happened be aware of what actually happened the second time, was the outcome the same? So it might be that it was horrible to see my son go through an episode with his heart but the second time he pulled through it – just as he did the first time. Or that the second episode was shorter so that’s a positive.

There is no getting away from some anxiety during your neonatal experience but there will be plenty of help from others to help you through this. Don’t be afraid to ask for that help or take it if it’s offered.

Astonishment / awe / admiration / adoration

Your preemie amaze you all the time. They will astonish you repeatedly and have you staring at them in awe and wonderment at just how much of a fight they put up. You will adore them like no other human being on this planet, if you have other children you won’t adore them any more or less but it will feel different. The admiration you have for them will overflow and you will be telling all that will listen the miraculous milestones they are hitting.

Groups

If you think you want more support then I set up two preemie groups last month. One is for preemie parents and the other is for family and friends. Look out next month for ‘B’ in the preemie A-Z.