While we anxiously await our babies in the months and weeks of pregnancy, nobody wants their baby to be born too early. Every week that your baby spends in utero will give him a better chance at survival. However, babies born at 33 weeks gestation can do quite well and encounter relatively few challenges because of their early entrance into the world.
Babies born at 33 weeks have excellent survival rates. Babies born between 32 and 34 weeks are considered mildly premature and will need less intervention than babies born earlier. They will likely need to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to maintain their temperature and may require oxygen for a short period of time. Their breathing will be monitored as well as their sucking reflex.
Respiratory difficulties are not as common in babies born at 33 weeks as you might think. They are more common in babies born before 33 weeks. If a mother is at risk of premature birth, her baby’s lung maturity will be assessed and steroids can be given to the mom if there is a suspected issue. The baby will still be monitored for respiratory distress syndrome and periods of apnea because she will have an immature respiratory drive. This will be managed by monitoring the baby’s breathing patterns and possibly administering some medications.
The biggest issue your baby will face if he is born at 33 weeks is his size. The last few weeks of pregnancy are focused on the fetus gaining weight, and he will miss out on that. When a baby is this small, he has trouble eating and gaining weight. These babies are often sluggish and slow to take in the formula or breast milk and may expend a lot of energy to do so. This in turn makes it hard for them to gain weight. There are formulas designed for preemies that have extra calories and nutrients, and there are fortifiers for breast milk to increase the number of calories your little one gets.
Breast milk is the best food for babies. For preemies, it becomes even more important. Breast milk is easier for premature babies to digest than formulas, and they tolerate it better as well. Premature babies are also at greater risk of infection because of their immature immune systems, and mom’s breast milk will protect them from infection.
Bonding can be a challenge with premature babies because they often have tubes and monitors that interfere with that process. Having mom provide her breast milk for baby is a good way to improve bonding opportunities. Often, mothers of preemies feel helpless, worried and anxious, and having mom provide the perfect food for baby will give mom an opportunity to actively participate in helping her child gain strength and health.
While not all births at 33 weeks can be avoided, some can. Follow your health care provider’s advice for your situation. Stay hydrated and get the rest your body needs. Pay close attention to your body in your final weeks of pregnancy. If you are experiencing contractions every 10 minutes for an hour, that is too many, regardless of their nature. See your health care provider immediately. Babies born at 33 weeks have excellent survival rates, but the longer you are pregnant, the better off your baby will be.