A premature birth or preterm birth is defined as a birth prior to the 37th week of gestation. Babies born after this week are not considered premature even if the aren’t the standard 40 weeks. This gives roughly a three to five week window for baby to be born on schedule. This corresponds to weeks 38 and 42.
Surprisingly, nearly 13 percent of babies are born premature. These babies are sometimes called “preemies”. Over the last two decades the number of premature babies have risen. Fortunately, the medical community has learned to better deal with the complications of premature births.
Premature Baby Complications
Premature babies have higher instances of these complications when compared to full-term babies.
- Anemia / decreased number of red blood cells
- Apnea / difficulty breathing
- Chronic lung disease (also called bronchopulmonary dysplasia or BPD)
- Infections including sepsis, pneumonia, and urinary tract infection
- Bleeding in the brain (intracranial hemorrhage)
- Developmental delays
- Hearing problems
- Cerebral palsy and other neurological problems
- Intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH)
- Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)
- Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)
Here’s the good news – not all preemies have medical or developmental problems. By 28 to 30 weeks, the risk of serious complications is much lower. Babies born between 32 and 36 weeks, most medical problems related to premature birth are short term.
Why Are Babies Born Premature
While it’s true that any baby can be born preterm, there are risk factors that make can make a premature birth more likely. But even if a woman does everything “right” during pregnancy, she still can have a premature baby.
- age: younger than 17 or older than 35
- birth defect in the baby
- clotting disorders (thrombolphilia)
- clotting disorders
- environmental pollutants
- exposure to the drug DES
- high blood pressure
- high levels of stress
- in vitro fertilization
- limited or in adequate prenatal care
- obesity and being overweight before pregnancy
- over excretion such as long work hours or standing for extended periods
- previous and current pregnancy: having had a previous premature birth, expecting multiples, certain uterine or cervical abnormalities, previous abortions or miscarriages
- problems with the uterus, cervix or placenta
- physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or domestic violence
- smoking or drinking (also a risk for fetal alcohol syndrome)
- using illegal drugs
How To Reduce The Risk Of A Premature Birth
Preterm birth can happen to anyone and many women who have a premature birth have no known risk factors. There are things you can do to help your own health and lower your risk of having a premature baby.
What can you do, if you have some or the risk factors? The first thing, and easiest, is to manage your lifestyle. Avoid drinking, smoking and other things you know you shouldn’t be doing. Eat a healthy diet. Get good prenatal care. Manage your work life and avoid excessive physical activity. Eliminate stress factors and take time each day to relax. Speak to your doctor about hormone injections. Studies have found these injections can reduce the risk of a preterm birth.
Learn the signs of preterm labor and notify your doctor immediately, if you are having any of the symptoms. Your doctor may be able to speed up the babies lung development with medication and delay the onset of labor. Every day the baby can stay in the womb and develop, it will help minimize complications, barring any other complications. The earlier you realize you’re in preterm labor, the more likely it is that your baby will be able to benefit from this treatment.
Premature / Preterm Baby Survival Rates
- 23 weeks – 17%
- 24 weeks – 39%
- 25 weeks – 50%
- 26 weeks – 80%
- 27 weeks – 90%
- 28-31 weeks – 90-95%
- 32-33 weeks – 95%
- 34+ weeks – nearly as likely as full-term babies