Brain Development in Premature Babies – Before and After Birth
Babies born before the 37th week are termed as premature. This may lead to many health and developmental issues in babies. The brain, in most preemies, is badly affected leading to learning and intellectual disorders. It may also cause communication problems, behavioural problems like ADHD and also neurological problems like cerebral palsy.
Preemie Baby Development
The moment a baby is conceived, her brain starts developing. If born after the 37th week, she will be born with a developed brain of more than 100 neurons. However, if a baby is born way before the due date, her brain will not be developed enough and as such she may be born with several health problems as well as disabilities.
1. Inside the Womb
The brain develops rapidly inside the womb. Within the 3rd week of gestation, three parts of the brain are formed. By the end of the first month, the brain starts functioning. In the second trimester, the brain connects to all parts of the body. In the third trimester, brain growth, as well as the head growth, is the most rapid. However, since preemies are born before this crucial phase, their brain is not developed properly.
2. Outside the Womb
Since preterm brain development is compromised, preemies suffer from health hazards as well as neurological problems and brain damage which may lead to several disabilities. The baby’s brain continues in its developing process even after birth. However, a full term baby’s brain which develops in the dark, inside the mother’s womb with closed eyelids, hardly any audible sounds floating in the amniotic liquid. Whereas a preemies’ brain gets stimulated by the various sounds, touch, sights and senses while it is developing. This is not good for the brain.
What are the Effects of Premature Birth on Brain Development?
Brain damage in premature babies can lead to severe and lifelong intellectual, behavioural as well as developmental disabilities. Since a preemie is born with an underdeveloped brain, the brain fails to work as it should in a normal set up. Blood vessels in the brain develop and become strong only after the 32nd week. Therefore there may be brain bleeds in premature babies born before this period. In such a situation, the baby may face certain challenges like –
- They may not be able to grow physically as normally as other children
- They may face learning disabilities
- They may suffer from speech disorders and as such communicating with others could be a problem.
- They may suffer from behavioural problems like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Moving around may become a problem if they are physically disabled due to Cerebral palsy in which the brain, the spinal cord and nerves get affected
Listed below are some frequently asked questions on brain development in preterm babies.
1. Can Breastfeeding Boost Brain Development in Premature Babies?
Breast milk is certainly one of the best can give to her newborn. A mother’s milk has several nutrients that boost a baby’s immunity. Also, it has been observed that the brain of the preemies who have been breastfed develop faster instead of those who have been given formula milk.
2. Do All The Difficulties and Problems in Premature Births Arise Right After Birth?
No. Some problems and difficulties as a result of brain damage due to premature birth may arise even during childhood and even as late as adulthood.
It is imperative for mothers-to-be to avoid preterm labour by being careful with their diet and to consult their gynaecologist immediately in case they sense any problems during pregnancy. A little caution can help in giving birth to a healthy and full-term baby.