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Health & Pregnancy

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Some of World's Tiniest Preemies Are Growing Up Healthy

Two of the Smallest Surviving Infants Develop Normally, but Height and Weight Lag a Bit

Not Typical Outcomes continued...

"We tell parents of babies born this small not to expect their children to be super tall," says researcher Jonathan Muraskas, MD.

Even so, he credits three main reasons for the girls’ relatively normal development. The first, says Muraskas, is that number of weeks of the pregnancy is much more important than birth weight for a child's growth and brain development.

A second is that female preemies do better than males. "But we don't know why," says Muraskas, a professor of neonatal and perinatal medicine at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill.

And a third reason is that both mothers were given steroids before birth. These medications help the baby's lungs and brains mature faster and lower the risk of bleeding in the brain.

Muraskas points out that the two girls’ outcomes are not typical. Many micro-preemies either do not survive or grow up with disabilities from conditions such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and blindness.

Tracking the Tiniest Babies

While the researchers caution against considering their results as an expected outcome, it's important for parents of these babies to recognize that there's some hope.

"Good outcomes are possible even for the smallest babies," says Edward Bell, MD, a neonatologist at the University of Iowa Children's Hospital in Iowa City. He also says that for these tiny infants, the number of weeks spent inside the mother's uterus affects their chances of survival more than their birth weight.

In 2000, Bell started a Tiniest Babies Registry when he realized he didn't have good answers for parents' questions about these babies who were born very premature.

Although information remains scarce, the registry has more than 100 babies who have survived weighing less than 14 ounces at birth.

"Most of them are doing pretty well," Bell tells WebMD.

But this case report is not the norm, says Leslie Kerzner, MD, a neonatologist at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston. "[Rumaisa and Madeline] are two remarkable, isolated cases of survival of very low-birth-weight babies."

It's much more common for babies of this size to not survive or to have medical problems. "While these two girls may be the lucky ones, so many more suffer from hearing loss, vision, and movement problems, and [mental] delays," Kerzner tells WebMD.

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