According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, preterm labor is defined as regular contractions of the uterus resulting in changes in the cervix that start before 37 weeks of pregnancy. These changes may include effacement, when the cervix gets thinner, or dilation, when it opens up during delivery.
When a baby is born between 20 and 37 weeks of gestation, it is called preterm delivery. There are four different classes of preterm deliveries:
- Late preterm delivery occurs between 34 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. Most premature births occur in this class.
- Moderately preterm is when babies are born between 32 and 34 weeks.
- Very preterm is when babies are born between 25 and 32 weeks.
- Extremely preterm is when babies are born before 25 weeks.
A premature baby born at 29 weeks of gestation (a little more than seven months) can show many complications because their organs haven’t completely matured. They’re also much smaller than babies carried to full term. For a baby born at 29 weeks, complications include both short-term and long-term health problems. Some health problems a baby born at 29 weeks might experience include:
- Inability to maintain body temperature
- Short-term and long-term breathing problems
- Anemia or low red blood counts
- Jaundice or yellow color to the skin due to an inefficient liver
- Kidney complications
- Trouble feeding or digesting foods
- An immature nervous system, which may result in seizures
- Infections due to a weak immune system
A baby born at 29 weeks has an excellent chance of survival if they receive care by a physician who is experienced in caring for and treating premature babies. After a preemie is born, they are typically cared for in the NICU. The survival rate for babies born at 29 weeks is between 80 and 90 percent.
The average gestation period of a full-term baby is 40 weeks. In comparison to babies born at 29 weeks, full-term babies are larger and look less fragile.
Babies born at 29 weeks are around 15.3 inches long on average and weigh about 3 pounds. They may have soft, downy hair on their backs, arms, and legs, which helps them maintain their body temperature. Their skin may also appear very soft, reddish in color, and translucent, and their ears may hug the sides of their heads because they have not fully developed. The head and stomach of a premature baby may be disproportionately larger than their arms and legs, though they may seem very skinny because they haven’t had time to develop body fat.
While the survival rate for babies born at 29 weeks is exceptionally good, they are at risk for both long-term and short-term health complications. While there is no predictor of whether your baby will have any health problems, birth weight is often one of the factors that determines whether they will experience complications. Some of the most common complications include the following.
- Breathing problems
- Heart problems
- Brain problems
- Temperature control problems
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Blood problems
- Metabolism problems
- Immune-system problems
- Cerebral palsy
- Impaired learning
- Hearing problems
- Vision problems
- Dental problems
- Behavioral and psychological problems
- Chronic health problems
After delivering a baby born at 29 weeks, how long you stay in the hospital depends on any underlying medical conditions. The baby typically stays in the hospital’s NICU until their actual due date. They may be able to go home earlier if they have no serious health conditions, have the ability to maintain their body temperature on their own, take all feedings by breast or by the bottle, are steadily gaining weight, and have a steady respiratory and heart rate. While your baby is in the NICU, you may request a parenting room in the hospital, which allows you to remain with your baby until they’re ready to leave.
Premature babies often have special needs, like feeding tubes and oxygen, so you’ll need to discuss how to care for your preemie at home. You can also request help from the hospital staff as you adjust and ask any questions you have.
A baby born at 29 weeks requires extra care in the hospital by doctors and a specialized team of nurses. While in the NICU, you will be allowed to visit your baby and take part in your baby’s care as much as possible. If your baby is able to breastfeed, a lactation consultant (LA) can show you the correct way to hold and feed your baby. If they aren’t quite ready to breastfeed, your LA can show you how to pump both breasts at the same time with a high-quality electric pump. It’s important to pump as often as your baby feeds in order to build up an adequate milk supply.
Because preemies are at a higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome, you’ll learn how to put your baby to sleep on their back instead of their stomach.
Once you and your baby are able to go home, you’ll get instructions on how to provide for your infant. Because preemies are at a higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome, you’ll learn how to put your baby to sleep on their back instead of their stomach. You’ll also need to attend any scheduled follow-up visits to keep your baby healthy. Be sure to take care of yourself during this stressful time.
In 2018, approximately 1 in 10 babies were born before 37 weeks of pregnancy in the United States. It’s important to see your obstetrician during your pregnancy and receive adequate care prior to your baby’s birth. If your baby is born early, they will receive good health care in the NICU and have a good chance of survival.
Parents of a baby born at 29 weeks can expect their baby to have a low birth weight and other health complications that need to be addressed as soon as their baby is born. While there may be long- and short-term health complications, it’s possible to reduce the risk of any problems by following the advice of your obstetrician during pregnancy.