Have you asked the following question by now: “Why are babies born premature?” If you are like all the future mothers – concerned for their pregnancy and their baby`s health – then you most definitely have.
Pregnancy is one of the most beautiful moments through which a woman can pass in a lifetime. However, she always needs to be informed about the possible complications that may appear.
During pregnancy, there may be various complications and one of these is premature birth (preterm birth). This may cause serious problems to both the mother and the child.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is a Premature Baby?
- 2 Why Are Babies Born Premature?
- 3 Signs of Preterm Birth
- 4 Complications of Premature Birth
- 5 When Should my Baby Be Born Prematurely?
- 6 When You Should Go to the Doctor?
- 7 How to Prevent Preterm Birth?
- 8 Treatment for the Mother
- 9 Treatment for the Baby
What Is a Premature Baby?
Most pregnancies end around 40 weeks, a few weeks earlier (most often) or a few days later (rarely). By definition, a premature baby is born weeks earlier than the established term, the fetus having little chances to develop completely. Although the rate of babies born prematurely increases, the good news is that a healthy lifestyle may prevent a pregnancy to end earlier.
One out of 10 babies is born prematurely worldwide. The mortality among premature babies in the United States is of around 35%. This risk is inversely proportional to the number of pregnancy weeks. Premature babies can only be saved large medical clinics with modern neonatal intensive care, but only just 50% of the babies born at 26 weeks survive.
Because babies born prematurely have problems after birth more often than babies born on term, the doctors will try to delay the preterm birth as much as possible.
Why Are Babies Born Premature?
The causes of preterm birth are many, both medical and social-economical. However, in 30% of all cases of premature birth, the cause is unknown.
- Acute conditions (viral or bacterial infections) during the third trimester of pregnancy might trigger preterm birth.
- Excess of amniotic liquid (polyhydramnios).
- Placenta praevia or placenta abruption.
- Multiple pregnancy causes excessive uterine distension.
- Previous multiple pregnancies.
- Cervical or uterine abnormalities – congenital or acquired.
- Personal history of repeated abortions, miscarriage or preterm births.
- Genital bleeding.
- Weight issues regarding the mother – underweight or overweight.
- Traumas or surgery during pregnancy.
- Rh system incompatibility between the mother and fetus imposes premature triggering of birth.
Premature birth frequently occurs in single women with ages of less than 28 years or over 40 years. It also occurs in women who smoke, consume drugs or alcohol. Pregnant women who are expecting or make intense physical exercises may also experience preterm birth. All studies show that premature birth is more frequent in women with a low social-economical status.
Domestic violence or stressful events, like losing someone close, may trigger preterm birth as well. A profession with a lot of work hours or intense effort may also increase this risk.
Signs of Preterm Birth
Abnormal uterine contractions may occur anytime between the weeks 20 and 37 of pregnancy. They become more frequent (4 contractions every 20 minutes or 8 per hour), more regular and painful than Braxton-Hicks contractions. Uterine contractions aren`t always painful; it`s more important their frequency for a diagnosis of premature birth. If you feel uterine contractions, you need to sit down, relax, and if they persist, call your gynecologist.
Prompt recognition of premature labor may help prevent preterm birth. Here are a few symptoms that may predict it:
- Menstrual-like cramps.
- Slight back pain.
- Intestinal cramps or diarrhea.
- Pelvic pressure or pain.
- Headache, fatigue, dizziness and palpitations.
- Watery vaginal discharges.
- Vaginal bleeding.
Complications of Premature Birth
- The liver is immature, explaining the high frequency of jaundice.
- The digestive system is immature: the premature baby needs to be fed through the gastric tube since he cannot be breastfed due to lack of sucking and swallowing reflexes.
- Small birth weight (less than 2,500g).
- The immune system is immature, explaining the frequency and severity of infections.
- Thermoregulation is immature: he`s sensitive to heat or cold, so he must be placed in an incubator.
- Delay in psycho-motor-acquisition (neurological or vision issues).
During the first few days of the baby`s life there are 3 major dangers that threatens prematurity: respiratory distress, intracranial haemorrhage and infections. In most causes of preterm birth, the mother doesn`t remain with sequelae. On the other hand, you should know that in 5% – 10% of cases, there the risk of brain, heart or kidney damage. Depending on the treatment, there`s also a risk of:
- Pulmonary congestion.
- Muscle weakness.
- Increased blood pressure.
- Blood sugar abnormalities.
When Should my Baby Be Born Prematurely?
For medical reasons, sometimes the baby needs to be born prematurely. In such a case, labor will be induced or C-section will be required. Around 1/5 of premature births happen due to such reasons.
The doctor will decide on preterm birth if:
- The baby doesn`t develop as he should.
- He has a malformation.
Or if you:
- Have a medical condition which makes it safer for the baby to be born now.
- Has suffered an abdominal trauma.
- Have preeclampsia.
When You Should Go to the Doctor?
If you experience signs of preterm labor, such as watery vaginal discharges or irregular contractions that occur more than 8 times in 1 hour, contact the doctor who supervises your pregnancy or visit the nearest hospital. Our advice is that during pregnancy to keep all phone number for emergency situations close to you, so that you can find them quickly. If the doctor has decided that you present an increased risk of premature birth, he`ll recommend frequent visits to the clinic.
How to Prevent Preterm Birth?
Some tips may be useful when wanting to prevent preterm birth.
- Drink around 250 ml of water or juice made of fruits every couple of hours so you can prevent dehydration.
- Adopt a healthy and well balanced diet. Also make sure your weight will always be somewhere between 11 and 16 kg throughout the 9 months.
- Always wipe from front to back after urinating, so you can prevent tract infections.
- Urinate regularly so you can always keep your bladder empty and be less prone to urinary tract infections. This way you`ll avoid any risk of premature contractions.
- Wear cotton panties – they “breathe” better than other materials and you`ll manage to inhibit the development of bacteria.
- Give up smoking and consumption of coffee, drugs or alcohol.
- Use condoms when having sexual contacts.
- Avoid having too many sexual partners.
- Avoid or at least reduce stress.
Treatment for the Mother
The treatment usually depends on the pregnancy stage as well as how much labor has progressed. The doctor will consider these details and recommend:
- Rest – Sometimes, resting and drinking a lot of liquids may be enough to stop preterm contractions.
- Cervical cerclage – If you don`t have any contractions, but your cervix opens, there`s a medical procedure known as cervical cerclage that can help you prevent preterm birth. During this procedure, the cervix is sewn with strong sutures, which can later be removed in the last month of pregnancy. – Learn more!
- Medication – Some drugs can stop contractions by relaxing the smooth muscles, including the uterus. Other drugs stop the production of substances which stimulate uterine contractions. These medications can be administered intravenously or by injection. Unfortunately, they often stop contractions only for a brief period of time, often enough to accomplish other goals, like transferring the baby to a hospital that is well equipped.
- Steriod injection – Such an infection is used to mature the lungs of the baby. If the woman is between weeks 23 and 24, the doctor may recommend a steroid injection to accelerate the development of the fetal pulmonary function. After week 34, steroids aren`t required anymore, because the lung development of the fetus is a lot more advanced.
Treatment for the Baby
Each maternity is equipped with neonatal intensive care units, which are designed to offer permanent care to premature babies.
Specialized care for the baby might include:
- Placement in an incubator – in the neonatal intensive care unit, your baby will probably be placed into an incubator – a small plastic basket, heated electrically to help the baby maintain a normal body temperature.
- Monitoring the vital signs of the baby – The device`s sensors will monitor blood pressure, temperature, heart rate and baby breathing. The medical personnel may also use ventilators to help the baby breath. This equipment might seem depressing for the mother at first, but all this was actually designed to help the baby pass this hard stage of his life.
- A feeding tube – At the beginning, the baby may receive liquids and nutrients through an intravenous tube. Breast milk can also be given through a tube passed through the nose of the baby which goes all the way to his stomach. When the baby will be strong enough to suck on his own, you can breastfeed him on your own. The antibodies in the breast milk are essential for premature babies.
The doctors and nurses will offer special recommendations of how to take care the baby when he`s ready to go home. Keep in mind that babies born prematurely are more sensitive than those born at term. They may present serious infections, and their diseases tend to develop faster. When you return to the medical clinic, don`t hesitate to ask the doctor all the necessary questions for your baby`s health.