Rise in pre-term deliveries alarming, say experts

Infants born several months early have under-developed lungs, among other health complications. Though NICU admissions are higher post-pandemic, the infant mortality rate continues to remain low in the State
Rise in pre-term deliveries alarming, say experts

CHENNAI: Saranya (27) gave birth to a premature girl in her seventh month of pregnancy on July 4th at a government hospital in the city. The infant weighed 800 grams and medical investigations revealed that her lungs did not develop fully. After she was kept in the NICU for a few days, the baby died on July 9.

Earlier, the mother was pregnant, but she had an abortion in three months. Saranya’s lifestyle had completely changed during her pregnancy, and she gained more weight due to lack of physical activity as her doctor recommended for complete rest.

The pandemic has made crisis worse for pregnant women. There has been at least 10% increase in preterm deliveries of infants. The sudden change in lifestyle during pregnancy has led to an increase in health risks among the new-borns. Even NICU admissions have risen alarmingly in the last two years. But thankfully, the infant mortality rate remains minimal in the State.

Infants admitted in NICU are born pre-term, and suffer from respiratory issues, pneumonia, and other complications. New-borns with premature lungs do not produce a compound which is important for the compliance of the lung. So, they’re kept in a NICU and treated until they can breathe on their own.

“Women who became pregnant during the pandemic have comorbid conditions including diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Many women have preterm deliveries, or a low birth rate these days,” explained Dr Vanathi Vijayakumar, consultant neonatologist, Kanchi Kamakoti Child Trust Hospital. “Foetuses in 23-24 weeks are viable – as in they could live and grow. If there are any issues identified, they can be treated in NICU for a short period.”

Medicos also point out that ‘eating smart’ is an alien concept in most families. Pregnant women are constantly under a lot of pressure to stay inactive, which often results in too much weight gain during pregnancy.

“Normal delivery can only happen to fit mothers who move around a lot. Lack of physical activity has paved the way for comorbid conditions, so they undergo procedures like Caesarean section (C section),” said Dr Vanathi.

More than physical activity, the mother needs to be calm and at ease during pregnancy. “If they get stressed, it can affect the growth of the child, and how it’d behave after birth. As per studies, when the mom indulges in any activity, it impacts the foetus. For instance, if a mother has interest in a specific genre of music or art, the child will also have similar interests,” she added.

Doctors say that the first trimester is very important as the mother may have morning sickness and other issues. In the second trimester, they should go for long walks and exercise regularly. “They should make sure that they don’t indulge in heavy exercises but just walking for 30 mins for 5 days a week is recommended,” pointed out Dr Pushkala, consultant paediatrician, Kauvery Hospital. “During the third trimester, the mother will have issues so the duration can be reduced to 20 mins. But still, it’s important to stay physically active throughout the day. They need not be in bed rest unless they are in medical conditions.”

If the mother consumes more snacks or high sugar items during the pregnancy, they will gain more weight which will affect the development of heart or brain condition of the foetus. “Majority of preterm babies are prone to respiratory issues. When the mother develops diabetes, the baby will be too small or big, its growth will be affected,” she added.

There’s also the increased risk of new-borns getting jaundice, which can be fatal in many cases.

“New-borns with jaundice are kept for a day or two under the light. Though fatality is a possibility, the mortality rate has been very minimal in the State. Tamil Nadu is doing well to make sure infant deaths are less, and steps are taken to reduce it further,” noted health experts in government departments.

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