A premature infant (search) believed to be the smallest baby ever to survive was called "a great blessing" Tuesday by her mother, who is preparing to take the little girl and her twin sister home from the hospital.

The baby, named Rumaisa (search), weighed 8.6 ounces — less than a can of soda — when she was delivered by Caesarean section Sept. 19 at Loyola University Medical Center (search). That is 1.3 ounces smaller than the previous record holder, who was born at the same the hospital in 1uesday at a news conference at the hospital in suburban Maywood. The girls were bundled in identical striped blankets.

Their mother, Mahajabeen Shaik, said she didn't "have the words to say how thankful I was" when she first got to hold her children in their second month.

"It's a blessing, it's a great blessing," she said.

Hospital officials said they are doing so well that Hiba, who weighed 1 pound and 4 ounces at birth, could be released from the hospital by the end of this month, with Rumaisa following as early as the first week of January.

Rumaisa now weighs 2 pounds, 10 ounces. Her twin weighs 5 pounds.

"They're maintaining their temperature; they don't need an incubator. They're taking their bottles," said Dr. William MacMillan. "They're normal babies."

Shaik, 23, developed pre-eclampsia (search), a disorder characterized by high blood pressure and other problems, during pregnancy. The condition endangered Rumaisa and her mother, prompting a C-section at 26 weeks. Normal gestation is 40 weeks.

Dr. Jonathan Muraskas, a professor of neonatal-perinatal medicine, said several factors may have improved the babies' chances of survival. Babies born before 23 weeks do not have fully developed lungs and are usually not viable, but those born afterward can survive.

Muraskas said girls are also more likely to survive than boys when born at less than 13 ounces, and the twins could have been helped by their mother's health problems. "Sometimes, when babies are stressed in utero, that can accelerate maturity," he said.

Muraskas said the twins were placed on ventilators for a few weeks and fed intravenously for a week or two until nurses could give them breast milk through feeding tubes. They were able to start drinking from bottles after about 10 weeks.

Ultrasound tests have shown no bleeding in Rumaisa's brain, a common complication in premature babies that can raise the risk of cerebral palsy. Both girls also underwent laser surgery to correct vision problems common in preemies.

Shaik and her husband, Mohammed Abdul Rahman, 32, said they are looking forward to bringing their children home. The couple, originally from Hyderabad, India, live in the suburb of Hanover Park.

"We want them to be good human beings, good citizens, and she wants them to be doctors," said Rahman, looking at his wife.

"Doctors. Yes, of course, of course," she said, laughing.

Madeline Mann, the previous record holder as smallest known surviving preemie, returned to Loyola Hospital earlier this year for a celebration. Now 15, she was described as a lively honor student, though small for her age, at 4-feet-7.

According to the hospital, more than 1,700 newborns weighing less than 2 pounds have been cared for there in the past 20 years.

Stephen Davidow, a hospital spokesman, said a routine delivery costs about $6,000, while caring for a premature baby costs about $5,000 a day. Rumaisa, who has been in the hospital 90 days, is covered by Medicaid, hospital officials said.