Preemie Issues - a quick look

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Preterm infants are at greater risk for both short and long term difficulties. The tinier and earlier a preemie is born the greater the risk for complications.


Preemie Babies are not just tiny...

Premature babies are not just tiny; they are at risk for a number of health concerns, including breathing difficulties, brain injury, eye disorders, infection, bowel problems and heart dysfunction.
The issues surrounding preterm birth can be complex but we have tried to cover everything you may want to know. If you have any questions please ask them in our forums.

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Infections & Immune Systems in preemies

The defence systems of a preemie baby are still immature and so they are at greater risk for developing an infection than full term babies.

infections & the immune system in preemies, sepsis, pneumonia

Immature Systems

The skin and other membranes that line the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems help protect the body from foreign bodies. If the body is attacked by germs that can get through the physical barriers of the skin and membranes, the body uses another line of defence to help protect itself, this includes white blood cells, antibodies, and other substances in the blood that work to attack germs and foreign bodies. All of these defence systems are immature in preemie babies, which means they are at greater risk of developing infections.


Low gestational age is an important risk factor for infection due to immaturity of the immune system, which means they are inefficient at fighting off bacteria, viruses, and other organisms that can cause infection. Preemie babies are vulnerable to infection and as many as 65% of infants with birth weights less than 1,000 g have at least one infection during their initial hospitalisation. Approximately 35% of preemie babies delivered at less than 28 weeks’ gestation will develop a hospital-acquired infection during their stay. Micro preemies have an even greater risk for infection.

(Auriti et al., 2003; Lopez Sastre, Coto Cotallo, & Fernandez Colomer, 2002) (Bartels, Schwab, Geffers, Poets, & Gastmeier, 2007))

The most serious of infections commonly seen in preterm infants include;

  • sepsis
  • pneumonia
  • meningitis, and
  • urinary tract infections


Sepsis is a blood stream infection and is the most common infection in the neonatal intensive care units (NICU) setting. Preemies can catch these infections at birth from their mothers or after birth through their immature skin, lungs, or gastrointestinal tract, which lack fully developed immunoprotective functions.

(Bartels, et al., 2007)

A general infection (sepsis: blood-borne infection) often develops in preemies because their immature immune systems mean it is difficult to stop infections from spreading. Septic infants are generally critically ill and infection can spread to other parts of the body, including the brain.

(Bartels, et al., 2007)

Hospital acquired infections

Hospital acquired infections, called nosocomial infections, affect up to 40% of infants in NICUs. Critically ill infants receiving care in NICUs are at an increased risk for infections due to the essential invasive procedures and treatments preemie babies endure to save their lives. Injections, IV lines, catheters, and breathing and feeding tubes often mean the baby’s skin barrier is broken and bacteria can attack the body. The sicker a preemie infant is when they are admitted to the NICU the more at risk they are of contracting a hospital acquired infection.

(Auriti, et al., 2003; Moro et al., 1996) (Lopez Sastre, et al., 2002; Schelonka, Scruggs, Nichols, Dimmitt, & Carlo, 2006)


Technical Reference List

Auriti, C., Maccallini, A., Di Liso, G., Di Ciommo, V., Ronchetti, M. P., & Orzalesi, M. (2003). Risk factors for nosocomial infections in a neonatal intensive-care unit. J Hosp Infect, 53(1), 25-30.
Bartels, D. B., Schwab, F., Geffers, C., Poets, C. F., & Gastmeier, P. (2007). Nosocomial infection in small for gestational age newborns with birth weight <1500 g: a multicentre analysis. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed, 92(6), F449-453.
Lopez Sastre, J. B., Coto Cotallo, D., & Fernandez Colomer, B. (2002). Neonatal sepsis of nosocomial origin: an epidemiological study from the "Grupo de Hospitales Castrillo". J Perinat Med, 30(2), 149-157.
Moro, M. L., De Toni, A., Stolfi, I., Carrieri, M. P., Braga, M., & Zunin, C. (1996). Risk factors for nosocomial sepsis in newborn intensive and intermediate care units. Eur J Pediatr, 155(4), 315-322.
Schelonka, R. L., Scruggs, S., Nichols, K., Dimmitt, R. A., & Carlo, W. A. (2006). Sustained reductions in neonatal nosocomial infection rates following a comprehensive infection control intervention. J Perinatol, 26(3), 176-179.



AlbertEinstein_iconOne of the greatest minds in history, Albert Einstein was born preterm.

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Preemie, Premmie, or Prem?

Most babies spend between 38 and 42 weeks in their mother’s uterus. So, technically a preterm birth, preemie, premmie, or prem, is an infant who is born less than 37 completed gestational weeks. 

Read More: Defining Preterm birth



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