What You Must Know about Babies Born at the 31st Week

image001A baby born between 37 to 41 weeks is normal and healthy. However, if a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, he or she is generally termed as “Premature or preterm”. With excellent advancements in science and technology, preterm babies can definitely survive. However, since the babies are not fully developed and are more prone to some health problems, much intensive care is needed. Today the chances of survival of babies that are born between 31 and 34 weeks are more than 95%, which is mainly attributed to advancements in health care facilities.

Appearance of Baby Born at 31 Weeks

They look similar to the babies born earlier than 31 week. Their weight generally ranges from 2 to 4 lbs. These babies can cry (though the pitch is generally low and weak). These babies can also yank their legs. However, because of the premature, muscles of the babies only allow little movement which sometimes looks shaky. The muscle movements general become meaningful and stronger as the baby grows and gains more weight. Some primitive natural reflexes are also present such as eye-opening after stimulus and following moving objects. The baby sleeps most of the time which allows him or her to save energy.

Other features are:

  • Babies born at 31 weeks generally require respiratory support in the form of surfactant, mechanical support or oxygen therapy due to incomplete lung development
  • Some babies can feed on regular breast milk or formula milk; however, due to poor suckling, feeding is usually accomplished by naso-gastric tube or intravenous feeding.
  • Survival rate and development in these babies is generally normal, but if baby is born very low weight (under 3 pounds and 4 ounces), the risk of developmental delays is moderate.

Associated Complications of Baby Born at 31 Weeks

Preterm baby is at a higher risk of healthcare problems due to under-developed body organs and systems. Concurrently, the risk and rate of complications are also higher than those of a baby born full-term. Some of the main problems include:

1. Breathing Problems

Fetal lungs are the last organ system to mature, so premature babies are at much higher risk of developing respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) in which either the lungs are not fully functional or there is less amount of surfactant in alveoli. Surfactant is essential for the exchange of gases in lungs and helps in the prevention of lung collapse when the baby exhales. It is usually produced by fetal lungs after 34 weeks of intrauterine development.

Babies born at 31 weeks may either require breathing support to ensure optimal supply of oxygen to vital structures of the body usually by a machine called ventilator. Or they may need artificial surfactant for proper and easy respiration.

It is imperative to understand that respiration is monitored and controlled by certain areas of brain that are developed by 36 week of intrauterine life. The under-developed brain of baby born at 31 weeks may cause apnea (loss of breathing) that subsides as the baby grows and usually doesn’t require long term treatment/medications.

2. Feeding Problems

Some preterm babies are unable to suckle effectively while others are unable to tolerate and digest breast milk. Feeding can be done by NasoGastric-tube or as total parenteral nutrition where extra vitamins and minerals can also be administered. Some doctors also suggest formula milk (special preparation that is suitable for babies born at that stage) until the baby is able to suckle properly. Proper feeding with enough nutrients is very important for the growth of premature babies. Most babies start breastfeeding at least twice a day by 34 weeks of age.

3. Temperature Problems

Babies generally gain a fair amount of weight at or around term. This extra weight is deposited as brown fat in areas around the body to generate heat. Premature brain and little body fat makes it difficult for the baby to retain heat, so preterm babies lose body heat more rapidly than a full-term baby. Temperature should be maintained to prevent baby from cold and other complications.

4. Infections

Low immunity due to an undeveloped immune system makes the baby vulnerable to different types of infections. Prevention from infections is crucial for baby’s survival; in case of an infection antibiotics can be administered. It is also important to initiate vaccination as early as possible according to the recommendations of a pediatrician.

5. Jaundice

Jaundice is the accumulation of bilirubin (breakdown product of red blood cells) in blood. Bilirubin should be removed from body by liver but in preterm babies liver is unable to do so. Sometimes it subsides on its own, but if doesn’t, phototherapy may be needed where the bilirubin is broken down by the help of a special light.

Watch the video below to learn more about the potential problems of the baby born at 31 weeks of age:

Taking Care of the Newborn

1. Care by the NICU

With all the questions in your mind about how you can help your baby, the health care professionals will make you comfortable and guide you in many ways. Most of the preterm babies stay at the hospital until the baby is able to grow and maintain body temperature outside nursery environment. The baby is shifted to nursery if he or she no longer needs intensive care.

2. Support from Social Workers

In addition to the support from health-care professionals, social workers also help in understanding the knowledge about baby’s condition and help in financial matters as well.

Watch the video below and learn more helpful guidance of the wonderful journey of your baby born at 31 weeks: