What is premature birth?
A premature birth is a condition that occurs before the start of the 37th week of pregnancy. Normally, a pregnancy usually lasts approximately 40 weeks.
Premature birth gives the baby less time to develop in the uterus. The earlier you get premature birth, the more complication health your baby.
Depending on how early a baby is born, he or she may be:
- Late preterm, born between 34 and 36 weeks of pregnancy
- Moderately preterm, born between 32 and 34 weeks of pregnancy
- Very preterm, born at less than 32 weeks of pregnancy
- Extremely preterm, born at or before 25 weeks of pregnancy
Most premature births occur in the late preterm stage.
How common is premature birth?
Black women are more likely to experience premature birth than are women of other races. But premature birth can happen to anyone. In fact, many women who have a premature birth have no known risk factor. Please discuss with your doctor for further information
What are the symptoms of premature birth?
A premature birth means that your baby hasn’t had the usual amount of time to develop in the womb before needing to adapt to life outside the womb.
The signs and symptoms that a baby’s gestation has been cut short include:
- Small size, with a disproportionately large head
- Sharper looking, less rounded features than a full-term baby’s features, due to a lack of fat stores
- Fine hair (lanugo) covering much of the body
- Low body temperature, especially immediately after birth in the delivery room, due to a lack of stored body fat
- Labored breathing or respiratory distress
- Lack of reflexes for sucking and swallowing, leading to feeding difficulties
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs listed above or questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes premature birth?
Premature birth occurs for a variety of reasons. Most premature births happen spontaneously, but some are due to early induction of labor or caesarean birth, whether for medical or non-medical reasons.
Common causes of preterm birth include multiple pregnancies, infections and chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure; however, often no cause is identified. There could also be a genetic influence.
What increases my risk for premature birth?
There are many risk factors for premature birth, such as:
- Having a previous premature birth
- Pregnancy with twins, triplets or other multiples
- An interval of less than six months between pregnancies
- Conceiving through in vitro fertilization
- Problems with the uterus, cervix or placenta
- Smoking cigarettes or using illicit drugs
- Poor nutrition
- Not gaining enough weight during pregnancy
- Some infections, particularly of the amniotic fluid and lower genital tract
- Some chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes
- Being underweight or overweight before pregnancy
- Stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one or domestic violence
- Multiple miscarriages or abortions
- Physical injury or trauma
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is premature birth diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects that you may experience this condition, a physical examination will be performed.
And there are some additional procedure can enable your doctor to detect premature birth:
Breathing and heart rate monitor
Your baby’s breathing and heart rate are monitored on a continuous basis. Blood pressure readings are done frequently, too.
Fluid input and output
Your doctor will carefully track how much fluid your baby takes in through feedings and intravenous fluids and how much fluid your baby loses through wet or soiled diapers, blood draws and other tests.
A blood sample may be analyzed to measure the red blood cell count and check for anemia.
This test is an ultrasound of the heart to check for problems with your baby’s heart function
Ultrasound scans may be done to check the brain for bleeding or fluid buildup or to examine the abdominal organs for problems in the gastrointestinal tract, liver or kidneys.
An ophthalmologist (eye doctor) may examine your baby’s eyes and vision to check for problems with the retina (retinopathy of prematurity).
How is premature birth treated?
Medications may be given to your baby to promote maturing and to stimulate normal functioning of the lungs, heart and circulation. Depending on your baby’s condition, medication may include:
- A liquid (surfactant), squirted into the lungs to help them mature
- Fine-mist (aerosolized) or IV medication to strengthen breathing and heart rate
- Antibiotics if infection is present or if there’s a risk of possible infection
- Medicines that increase urine output (diuretics) to help the lungs and, sometimes, the circulation
An injection of medication into the eye to stop the growth of new blood vessels that could cause retinopathy of prematurity.
When specific complications arise, sometimes surgery is necessary to treat:
- A feeding problem, by placing a central line to deliver IV nutrition
- Necrotizing enterocolitis, by removing the damaged part of the intestines
- Patent ductus arteriosus, when medications fail to work, by closing a blood vessel near the heart
- Retinopathy of prematurity, by using a laser to reverse abnormal blood vessel development and limit further risks to vision
- Worsening hydrocephalus, by placing a plastic tube, called a shunt, to drain excess fluid in the brain
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage premature birth?
Following these tips can help you to cope with premature birth, include:
Understand how to care for your baby
Before you leave the hospital, take a course in infant CPR. Ask your baby’s medical team any questions you might have and take notes.
Make sure you’re comfortable caring for your baby, especially if you’ll need to administer medications
Use special monitors, or give your baby supplemental oxygen or other treatments.
Protect your baby’s health
Premature babies are more susceptible to serious infections than are other newborns. Try to minimize your preemie’s exposure to crowded places and make sure everyone who comes into contact with your child washes his or her hands first.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Premature birth. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs363/en/ . Accessed March 18, 2017.
Premature birth. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/premature-birth/basics/lifestyle-home-remedies/con-20020050 . Accessed March 18, 2017.
Premature birth. http://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/premature-babies.aspx . Accessed March 18, 2017.
Review Date: August 3, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019