A full term pregnancy usually lasts about 40 weeks, and starts from the first day of your last menstrual period, to your due date. While most cases see a pregnancy completing this period, there are some cases where delivery may occur before the full term of pregnancy is completed. This is known as a premature birth.
What is a premature or preterm birth?
A premature birth is the term used for a delivery that occurs more than three weeks before your baby is due, or before 37 weeks. Going into premature labour, though, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have a preterm baby. Many women who do experience preterm labour see this pass, and eventually deliver a baby at 37 weeks or later.
Why does preterm birth happen?
Preterm birth is normally categorized into two types:
- planned preterm birth
- spontaneous preterm birth.
Let’s look at the former first. If, during the course of your pregnancy, your medical team ascertains that there are complications that can affect the health of you or your baby, they may decide to induce labour early, or opt for a caesarean section before 37 weeks. A planned preterm birth is recommended if you are suffering from a serious medical condition, or if your baby has stopped growing. The situation that calls for a medically induced birth are many, and it is advisable that you gain complete clarity from your doctor, if this is suggested.
The exact cause of premature birth, when it occurs spontaneously, is still unknown. Medical studies, though, have linked a number of factors to premature birth. These factors can include:
- Going into labour early
- If your water breaks early
- If your cervix opens prematurely, with no contractions.
- Maternal age is also another factor for premature birth, if you are above the age of 35, or below the age of 18.
- Your height and weight can also play a role in premature birth.
- Medical conditions like preeclampsia, infection and placental abruption (where the placenta is prematurely separated from the wall of the womb during pregnancy) can also cause a preterm birth.
- Lifestyle factors like smoking, or alcohol and drug usage, as well as pre-existing medical conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes can also contribute to preterm labour or delivery.
- Multiple birth pregnancy i.e. where you may be expecting more than one new born, also run the risk of a premature birth.
What are the risks associated with preterm birth?
Premature birth is known to be one of the leading cause of new born death, and infants born too early run an increased risk of major health issues. However, with the right facilities to support them, even babies that are born as early as 26 weeks’ gestation have a strong survival rate.
It is important, though, that you know as much as you can about the possible health problems that can affect your new born. These can include:
- Apnea: Premature babies sometimes suffer from this condition, where there is a pause in breathing for 20 seconds or more. This condition may also be coupled with a slow heart rate.
- Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS): Babies with this medical condition do not have a protein in their lungs called surfactant, which keeps the small air sacs in the lungs from collapsing. This is one of the most common problems faced by premature babies.
- Intraventricular Haemorrhage (IVH): This medical condition causes bleeding in the brain and usually occurs near the ventricles, in the centre of the brain. Ventricles are spaced in the brain that are filled with fluid.
- Jaundice: A baby can suffer from jaundice when their liver isn’t fully developed, or are not working well. The most common symptom of this is seeing your baby’s eyes or skin turning yellow.
- Anaemia: This medical condition occurs when your baby doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.
- Infections: Premature babies are born without fully formed immune systems, making it difficult for them to fight off germs. Commonly faced infections can include pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis.
How can I take care of my premature baby?
The first step of taking care of your baby is to have a medical partner who has a Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) on site. Leading medical experts like Apollo Cradle not only offer the services of an NICU, but also the help of a round-the-clock team of expert neonatologists, to ensure that your baby gets the best care. You need to then seek their advice to understand the different kinds of health complications that can occur.
Depending on their advice, your baby may need to stay in the hospital for a while longer, to properly acclimatize to life outside your womb. You also need to understand that your baby will need special equipment, as well as treatment and medicine, after leaving the hospital. Expert health providers like Apollo Cradle will help you through this process, and teach you how to take care of your baby.