Lung Development in Premature Babies

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
May 19, 2011

Premature babies are born before term or before the complete duration of gestation. Their organ systems are not fully mature and developed. Because their various organs such as the lung, and eyes are not fully developed, they are prone to different health problems. A common problem in babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy is breathing problems due to immature lungs or inadequate lung development. Here are some facts on lung development and the associated problems in premature babies.


Respiratory Distress Syndrome


Breathing problem caused in preemies due to inadequate lung development is called Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS). RDS is caused due to deficiency of an important substance in the lungs called Surfactant. Surfactant forms a coat in the air sacs in healthy lungs and helps to keeps the air sacs open to take in oxygen and make breathing easy. RDS is more severe in extremely premature babies.


Treatment of RDS


Your doctor will treat RDS based on the severity of the condition and the prematurity of your baby. If the RDS is mild, the baby may require only supplemental oxygen for a few hours or days. Premature babies with more severe RDS may need a special medication.  The artificial lung surfactant makes a film in the air sacs, helps to keep it open and makes breathing easier. Some preemies may need to be kept on the ventilator as well.




If the RDS is severe, the preemie may be placed on a ventilator or vent. The ventilator helps the baby to breathe. The doctors try and take the newborn baby off the ventilator as soon as possible, since the vent can also damage the baby lungs. The disease caused due to lung damage because of the ventilator is called Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD), or chronic lung disease.


Premature babies with mild RDS may be placed on a continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP machine. The CPAP machine does not damage the lungs. In the ventilator a tube is inserted down the infant's throat, whereas in the CPAP machine, a mask is placed over the baby's nose and mouth.


Supplemental Oxygen


Some premature babies may need supplemental oxygen for a few days in the hospital, whereas some preemies may be sent home on supplemental oxygen.




Premature babies who develop Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia or BPD need more care in infancy and early childhood to protect against respiratory infections. In these infants, viral infections such as common cold can often lead to more serious problems, including pneumonia. Many of the preemies outgrow BDP around the age of two.


Lung development in premature babies is inadequate which makes them prone to respiratory complications. Advances in medical science and special medical care in neonatal intensive care units, or NICU has made it possible to for even very small preemies to survive until their organ systems can work on their own.


Read more articles on Newborn Care



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