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Looking Ahead

Mother and daughter blowing bubbles outside 
In the majority of cases, premature babies grow to be normal, healthy children and eventually adults, indistinguishable from their peers. No amount of expertise on the subject can make it possible to walk down the street identifying all those who were born premature.

At the same time, some premature babies will have long lasting or lifelong problems. The chance that this will be the case for any individual premature baby depends on how premature the child was born, how low the baby’s weight was at birth, and if the baby experienced complications that are known to put them at risk for problems as children and adults.

During the last few decades of the 20th century, the survival rate of premature babies has seen an incredible increase. While we can celebrate these saved lives and the triumph of medical knowledge, skill, and technology, the success has come at a price for some. Many premature babies who would not have survived in the past now live with a disability of one kind or another.

Most commonly, these babies grow up with cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, poor vision, chronic lung disease, and learning disabilities. While such conditions, and others, do not necessarily mean that these children will not be able to enjoy life and thrive in their own way, some premature babies will have severely restrictive lives that require constant care, even for the most basic necessities. These babies face a challenged quality of life that may not improve over time.

Andrew James, MBChB, FRACP, FRCPC

Hilary Whyte,MSc, MB, BCh, BAO, MRCPI, FRCPC