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Friday, 28 December, 2001, 20:02 GMT
Special care for early baby
Gordon Brown and wife Sarah
The Browns' baby was seven weeks premature
Chancellor Gordon Brown's daughter weighed 2lb 4oz when she was born by Caesarean section, seven weeks premature.

Health experts have said that this is very small, even for a baby born so early.

But obstetricians said with the care available in modern hospitals, the size of the child need not be a problem to its health.

Forth Park Hospital
The baby was delivered at Forth Park Hospital
Mr Brown's wife Sarah was told she needed a Caesarean section after a scan indicated a lower than expected amounts of amniotic fluid - indicating that the baby was not growing as she should have been.

Dr Tahir Mahmood, the consultant obstetrician who delivered the baby, said the new-born was suffering from intrauterine growth restriction - a condition which occurs in 10% of pregnancies, causing the baby to have an irregular heart rate.

If the pregnancy had been allowed to run its natural course, there could have been a risk to mother and child, he said.

Protection

Dr Maggie Blott, consultant obstetrician at King's College Hospital in London, said a lack of amniotic fluid would indicate that that baby was not receiving adequate food from the placenta.

In basic terms, amniotic fluid is urine passed by the foetus in the pregnant uterus.

The fluid is important because it protects the foetus against physical trauma, allows foetal lungs to develop normally, controls the temperature in the womb, and allows space for foetal movement and growth.

Dr Blott said: "Amniotic fluid will not be produced if the baby is not growing."

Special care

The normal fluid amount after 22 weeks gestation would be close to 800 ml, and this is usually closely monitored by doctors.

Dr Blott said that a baby born at 33 weeks, as Mrs Brown's daughter was, would be expected to weigh about 4lbs.

But if the baby needed to be delivered then a decision must be made to balance the risks of prematurity against the risks of delivery.

She said: "I would expect a baby born at this time to do very well."

Babies born early require special care and attention because their vital organs are not yet mature.


Quite often the baby has to go on a ventilator while the lungs mature. This can take a few days.

Dr Blott
The biggest danger for premature infants is an inability to breathe properly.

They lack a natural substance called factant, which stabilises the lungs, and invariably suffer respiratory distress as a result.

"You have to administer oxygen through a face mask and measure the blood oxygen level," said Dr Blott.

"Quite often the baby has to go on a ventilator while the lungs mature. This can take a few days."

Highly susceptible

Usually a baby will spend a short time in intensive care before being transferred to a special care unit, said Dr Blott.

Mr and Mrs Brown's daughter is in a general maternity ward.

Another common problem is infection. Premature babies are highly susceptible to hospital bugs and are routinely given antibiotics for their protection.

Because their livers are not working efficiently, they are also likely to suffer from jaundice - yellowing of the skin caused by a build-up of bile pigment.

This could be alleviated by bathing the infant with light, which breaks the pigment down.

Dr Blott said: "As the baby matures, these problems become self-limiting. Normally the amount of time spent in special care and intensive care is up to the baby's due date.

"Until then, the baby needs support while its lungs and liver mature."

See also:

28 Dec 01 | Scotland
Chancellor becomes a father
03 Aug 00 | Scotland
Chancellor's wedding in pictures
03 Aug 00 | UK
Joy as chancellor weds
03 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Message for Brown on family life
03 Aug 00 | UK
A thoroughly modern woman
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