Did you know that one in eight babies is born prematurely? In fact, this is the primary cause of newborn death in the United States. For millions of babies who are born prematurely, some physical and mental problems can follow them throughout their life. While we know the effects of premature birth, much research is still required to determine how to prevent this tragedy from continuing to devastate so many families. November is Premature Birth Awareness Month and at The Woman’s Clinic, we want you to be educated on the warning signs of premature birth during pregnancy and the potential hardships you will face if your baby is born prematurely.
What Constitutes Premature Birth?
There are varying stages of premature birth. The earlier the baby is born, the greater the risk of complications and potentially life-threatening problems. Extremely preterm is a birth before 25 weeks, very preterm occurs earlier than 32 weeks, moderately preterm occurs between 32 and 34 weeks, and late preterm describes a birth between 34 and 36 weeks. The majority of premature births are late preterm.
What Happens if a Baby is Premature?
In most cases, a preterm baby will require an extended stay in the hospital. Many of the babies will be monitored in an intermediate care nursery. The earlier the baby is born, the higher the potential that he or she will be admitted into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Premature babies may have a difficulty breathing due to underdeveloped lungs. They may lack sucking and swallowing reflexes that can cause feeding to be challenging at first. Premature babies often have a lower body temperature due to smaller amounts of stored fat than full-term babies.
Heart problems such as patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), an opening between the aorta and pulmonary artery, and hypotension (low blood pressure) often occur in babies born prematurely. In most cases, PDA corrects itself, but if it is not treated initially, it can lead to a heart murmur. Also, the earlier the baby is born, the greater his or her risk for bleeding in the brain. If the brain experiences a large hemorrhage, the baby risks permanent brain damage. Babies born preterm are also more likely to have underdeveloped digestive tracts leading to several GI problems. Newborn jaundice and anemia are both common problems that affect preterm babies. Premature babies also have underdeveloped immune systems which raise their risk for infection.
What Causes Premature Birth?
Although the exact causes are unknown, there are certain factors that increase your risk of giving birth to a baby preterm. You may be at risk if you have had a previous premature birth, are pregnant with multiples, or have an interval of fewer than six months between pregnancies. If you became pregnant through in vitro fertilization, have a problem with your cervix, uterus or placenta, your risk of giving birth prematurely increases. Women who smoke, who have gestational diabetes or high blood pressure, are overweight or underweight prior to pregnancy, or experience a traumatic event may be at risk for premature birth. While some women give birth to a baby preterm without any known risk factors, it is important to go over the risk factors with your ob-gyn.
Raising Awareness of Premature Birth
It is important for everyone to be aware of the risk factors and complications associated with premature birth. With extensive research, doctors hope to find the cure to premature birth so that every parent can experience the joy of giving birth to a healthy, full-term baby. The March of Dimes is an organization that seeks to bring awareness and raises funding to make this research—and this goal—possible. Find out how you can get involved in the Prematurity Campaign.
If you have concerns about your pregnancy and your risk for giving birth prematurely, make an appointment at The Woman’s Clinic today. Our incredible obstetrics team will walk you through every question you have so that you are as prepared as possible. They will look for warning signs of premature birth throughout your pregnancy and do their best to put you at ease. You don’t have to fear premature birth. Many babies born prematurely are completely healthy, however, it is important to be educated, know what to anticipate, and know how you can support friends or family with premature babies.