Nurse describes hidden needs of late preterm infants


GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – About one in ten babies will be born prematurely, that is, before 37 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control. “Late preterm infants” are a group of babies born at the very end of the preemie window, between 34 and 37 weeks into the mother’s pregnancy.  

Deena Knight, Director of Maternal Child Services with Bon Secours St. Francis Health said, “These babies: we call ‘the great pretenders.’ They are born just a little bit early, but late enough in the pregnancy to where they look a lot like a full-term baby in their size, in their weight.”  

Greenville mother Amanda Womack’s infant son, John, falls into this category.   Womack said, “On the way to the hospital, I was telling my husband how nervous I was, because 35 weeks seems really early to me.” 

John, who was born in mid-January at St. Francis Eastside, was delivered at 35 weeks, weighing a healthy six pounds.  However, Knight says weight can be deceiving.  She says babies born this early are not fully developed, even though they are a normal weight at birth and don’t need to be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit.   

“One of the issues is their lungs are still not completely mature enough. So, they might have trouble breathing,” Knight said. “You can also have blood sugar issues. They also have temperature issues. Both their white and brown fats are not mature enough yet to keep them completely stable.”  

Over the last year, Bon Secours St. Francis Health said they have made a concerted effort to educate parents and give extra attention to late preterm infants.  For example, Knight said late preterm infants’ temperatures and blood sugar are checked more frequently after birth.  Likewise, she says they must spend at least 48 hours in the hospital, while some babies can go home after only 24 hours.

The babies are given red hats to wear in the hospital to signify their need for additional care.  Knight says the goal is to keep these children out of intensive care and avoid having them be readmitted to the hospital later on.   

Amanda Womack described their experience after John’s birth. “In the hospital, we had to do things a little differently. [John] couldn’t have a bath right away, because they were worried if he got worked up too much, he’d burn more sugar. We couldn’t pass him around, have a bunch of people hold him,” she said. John is home now, happy and healthy, despite his earlier entrance into the world.  

For more information about how to stay healthy, tune in to hear the experts at Bon Secours each Saturday at 10 a.m. on 106.3 WORD radio.  

To submit a question to the Ask the Expert series, visit:  

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