Premature deliveries and low birth weight are associated with several health problems.  They are known to be the leading cause of death in children below five years old. 

Babies born alive before completing 37 weeks of gestation period are defined as premature babies. Every year, nearly 15 million babies are born prematurely worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation. In other words, one in every 10 children is born prematurely and the international health body stated that the number is rising.

These children have low immunity power and they are prone to several diseases. Asthma, infection and sudden infant death syndrome are some of the major issues faced by preemies.  

Premature babies are also at increased risk of several chronic illnesses, such as heart problems and kidney disease. They may also struggle with low IQ and motor impairments, as discussed in-depth below:

Chronic Kidney Disease: An estimated 10 percent of worldwide is affected by chronic kidney disease (CKD) and nearly two million people die due to this disease, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Premature babies are at higher risk of developing this illness, according to a study that was published in The BMJ journal. The research stated that kidney development and maturity of a fetus gets interrupted in the last few weeks of pregnancy. As a result, babies born before completing 37 weeks of pregnancy have fewer nephrons formed in the body. Nephrons are basically used to remove toxins and waste from an individual’s body.

Insufficient nephrons in the body of a preemie puts the baby at greater risk of developing high blood pressure and progressive kidney disease, stated the study. More than 4 million singleton live births were analyzed in Sweden between the years 1973 and 2014.

Cardiovascular Problems: Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide with an estimate of 17 million deaths in 2016, according to WHO. The international health body stated that more people die due to heart problems than any other cause.

A study that was published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics stated that preemies are at increased risk of various heart diseases. The research suggested that lack of blood and oxygen supply to the heart, due to a condition called ischemic heart disease, can be a major cause for cardiovascular problems in preemies later in life.

For the study, the research team analyzed data of more than 2 million babies born between the years 1973 and 1994 in Sweden. All the participants in the study were followed by the researchers for over 20 years and they found that preemies had a 53 percent increased risk of developing cardiovascular problems in their middle-age.

Motor Impairments: Several children worldwide suffer from motor impairments such as behavioral problems and learning disabilities, as they grow into early-school age. These less severe motor skills are more common in children who are born before completing 37 weeks ofthe gestation period, stated a study.

The research that was published in Pediatrics last year stated that motor impairments are very common in extremely premature and extremely low birth weight babies. According to the study, developmental deficits and fewer opportunities to move around can increase the risk of motor impairments in preemies.

For the study, the research team focussed on nearly 1,200 babies born between 1991 and 2005. None of the participants in the study had any kind of lethal abnormalities, but 54 percent of them showcased motor impairments by age eight.

Low IQ: Preemies could be less intelligent than their full-term counterparts, a study suggested. The research that was published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics last year stated that neonatal healthcare facilities may not really affect the cognitive outcomes of a premature baby.

The study further stated that every missed week of pregnancy in preterm deliveries were tied to a point reduction of 1.26 in IQ scores. For the research, the academics examined data of over 70 previously published studies, which included more than 7,750 preemies and nearly 5,200 full-term babies.

“The progress in neonatal health care that has been made since the 1990s considerably increased the survival of preterm infants. However, this improvement in survival was not accompanied by improvement of cognitive outcomes,” Sabrina Twilhaar, lead researcher at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Academic Medical Center, told Reuters.