Many premature babies have breathing problems, and respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is often the culprit. RDS is caused by a lack of surfactant, a liquid substance that coats the lungs and allows them to expand adequately. When carried to term, babies are usually born with plenty of surfactant, but preemies may not have enough to get their lungs going.
Signs that babies are suffering from RDS include grunting noises, flaring nostrils, erratic chest movements, and rapid, shallow breathing in the first few hours after birth. To treat the condition, doctors can give the baby artificial surfactant until he or she can make enough on his or her own. The artificial surfactant is often combined with ventilator support. If the breathing problems continue past the infant's original due date, when the lungs should be more developed, then the baby may be diagnosed with a condition called bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD).
Premature babies may not have the easiest start in life, and they'll need lots of special loving care. By learning the basics about these potential health issues, you're on the right path to helping the preemie in your life.