Thursday, October 7, 2010

Three Things You Should Know About Early Preemie Screenings

You've all heard of the Apgar, right? It's a tool used to get an early gauge as to how a baby is doing. They also test for a number of rare conditions through a blood sample. These are all just standard early screenings done to help monitor your baby's condition.

Early preemies have these too. But they also have a few more. Here are three of them:

  1. Blood Gases- Ask any preemie parent and they'll be all too familiar with these. Breathing is one of the first major challenges for these tiny babies. In almost all cases, micropreemies spend many of their early days on ventilators. In order to make sure they are being given the right levels, blood is drawn (usually from the heel) at set intervals (ranging from hourly to every 6 hours, typically) and the "gas levels" are checked. From these results, the doctors and nurses can decide if the ventilator settings need to be adjusted. When it goes well, this is a quick, fairly painless process. When it doesn't? Well, let me just say that watching a nurse stick your baby's bruised-up heel over and over again is not for the faint of heart. I'm guessing it's not fun for the nurse either...
  2. Head Ultrasounds- Brain bleeds are a major concern for babies born way too early. Most hospitals do weekly ultrasounds to monitor for intracranial (or intraventricular) hemorrhaging. These are painless for the babies, but stressful for the parents. It is not uncommon for a small bleed to be spotted and subsequently resolve itself. Unfortunately, it is also not uncommon for a bleed to worsen and require treatment.
  3. Eye Exams- Micropreemies are very susceptible to ROP or retinopathy of prematurity. There are varying grades of this (our daughter had a very severe case that required transport and retinal surgery) and it needs to be monitored on a weekly (or, in rare cases, more frequent) basis. The eye doctors will assure you that this exam is not really painful, but it is horrible to watch. This is mainly because of the device they use to keep your tiny baby's eye pried open. The ophthalmologist in our NICU wisely advised me to stay near, but not watch. I was given no such warning in Chicago... *shudder*
Preemie parents, what regular screening tests do you remember seeing your preemie go through?

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