For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been wondering what the impact of LMM’s prematurity will be on her immune system and her lungs for the long term. Her NICU doctors said she would benefit from the one year of isolation, but what happens after that? The year of isolation is to keep her healthy while her body gets stronger and learns to start making antibodies. We can’t just flip a switch and take her everywhere, expecting her to be just like a full term 1 year old.
So I started doing research. I’ve read medical journals, medical research papers, I’ve read the hundreds of pages of various medical stuff we got from the NICU about preemies and immunity. I talked to her doctors and nurses about it during our 3 months in the NICU. The two things that I am most concerned about are her immunity issues and her lung function.
From everything I’ve read about immunity in preemies, especially ones born at LMM’s gestational age and weight, they don’t get the “baseline” of antibodies that full babies do. Full term babies would have gotten this baseline of antibodies through their mothers during the last three months of gestation. Since LMM was born on the very first day of her third trimester, she didn’t get this. She started life with barely any antibodies. She gets some through my breastmilk and through coming into contact with the air in our house, but the baseline wasn’t there for her. Its like when cancer patients get chemo and their immune systems basically don’t exist anymore. Chemo kills everything, leaving cancer patients very susceptible to illnesses. Prematurity prevents anything from being transferred to begin with, leaving preemies very susceptible to illnesses. Her one year of isolation isn’t just to keep her from getting sick, its to give her time to try to build up her baseline of antibodies.
I’ve heard of people saying “if you never take them out, they’ll never be able to build immunity.” In my opinion, this is one of the most insulting and idiotic things you could say in this situation. Being in isolation is difficult. The lack of social contact aside, its very difficult to function normally under isolation. Mr Minion and I take turns going to the grocery store, doing errands, picking up take out. Going out anywhere where there are crowds, like the grocery store or big box stores, requires lots of effort to not bring home illness. We don’t touch anything. We don’t have long conversations with people. We don’t get close to people. We are constantly on the lookout for coughing people, sniffling noses, red eyes. No hugs, please. No handshakes. When we get home, we wash our hands up to our elbows, change clothes, wash up again, and only then can we be around LMM.
Lung function issues are harder to research. There is plenty of data on preemies while they are “young” but not much long term data. I did find this article though. Its an article about preemies and lung function. Basically, the article says that they have done research and tests on preemies and the data shows that preemies, compared to full term babies, are still not showing the same amount of lung function at 15 months, 2 years, and even 3 years old. This means that respiratory illnesses will still hit them harder that far out into their lives. When will the weakness end?