Home Gynaecology Care Premature Birth: When Does it Become a Necessity?

Premature Birth: When Does it Become a Necessity?

A pregnancy lasts for approximately 280 days or 40 weeks. A birth three weeks prior, i.e., before the 37th week of the estimated pregnancy, is termed as premature birth. Due to a lack of proper development, premature babies are often at a high risk of medical complications. These complications vary depending on the pre-maturity of birth.

What are the terms used for different stages of Prematurity ?

Preterm is defined as infants born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are complete. Based on gestational age, there are sub-categories of preterm birth:

  • Extremely pre-term (below 28 weeks)
  • Very preterm (28 – 32 weeks)
  • Moderate-to-late preterm (32 – 37 weeks)

Most premature births occur during the late preterm period. Additionally, because of the advancement in medicine, most premature babies lead a long and healthy life.

What are the features  of Premature Birth?

Some of the common signs of premature birth include:

  1. Disappropriate body composition of the baby with a large head and small body size.
  2. Lack of fat in the baby’s body, causing sharper-looking features and low body temperature.
  3. Respiratory distress due to immature development.
  4. Fine hair (lanugo) covering the body
  5. The skin might appear translucent or shiny.
  6. Lesser than average body weight and composition.

When Should You See a Doctor?

It is possible to slow down labor and delay premature birth by a few days . A delay of even a single day can have a great impact on both short-term and long-term complications.

Regardless of the pregnancy week, you need to immediately see a doctor if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Backache.
  • Frequent contractions (under 10-minute intervals).
  • Water bag breakage (water leak from the vagina).
  • Cramps in the abdomen.
  • Vaginal bleeding .
  • Increased vaginal pressure.

The quicker you visit a doctor, the better it is for your baby. Quick diagnosis and treatment also increase the time delay in premature birth.

If you have already given birth to a premature baby, you will still have to see a doctor often, especially when they are neonates (a newborn child, usually less than 4 weeks old). They will be transferred straight to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) shortly after their birth. Special care during the initial life of a premature baby can minimize health complications.

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 What are the Risk Factors for Premature Birth?

Usually, the cause of premature birth is unknown, however, a few scenarios can make you more vulnerable to delivering a premature baby. Some of these are:

  • Premature birth previous  history.
  • Multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets, or more).
  • Cervix or uterus problems.
  • Smoking habits.
  • Multiple abortions.
  • A very small interval between pregnancies (less than half a year).

These are the common risk factors that increase the chances of premature delivery. However, there are a few health conditions that make premature birth a necessity.

What are the Complications of Premature Birth?

Medical advancements have proven vital in helping premature babies lead a healthy life. Hence, not all babies who are born early experience complications. The risk of complications depends on how early a baby is born. Simply speaking, extremely preterm babies are at a much higher risk than late preterm babies. Some complications are seen right after the baby’s birth, whereas others develop after a few or several years.

Short-term premature birth complications

The premature baby can experience the following complications in the first couple of weeks:

  • Breathing distress: Immature lung development can cause breathing distress in premature babies. This can lead to several respiratory conditions that require quick treatment.
  • Heart conditions: A common heart condition in premature babies is an opening between the pulmonary artery and aorta known as Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA). Another complication that may arise is low blood pressure.
  • Brain problems: Preterm babies can experience internal bleeding in the brain. The bleeding usually stops after a short period but can also lead to fatal complications.
  • Inability to regulate body temperature: Due to the lack of fats in premature babies, their bodies lose heat rapidly. And, their bodies are unable to generate the equivalent amount of heat. This results in low body temperature.
  • Gastrointestinal conditions: Premature gastrointestinal organs cause difficulty in feeding. It could lead  to a condition known as Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC), where the cells on the bowel wall get infected.
  • Blood problems: A common blood problem seen in preterm babies is Anemia. It is a condition where the red blood cell count is low.

Premature babies may experience several other short-term complications like metabolic problems. They also have an underdeveloped immune system due to their premature birth.

Long-term premature birth complications

  • Vision problems: Premature babies may develop conditions where their blood vessels at the retina swell. This can lead to various vision problems, including blindness.
  • Dental conditions: Underdevelopment in preterm babies leads to dental problems that include improper alignment and discoloration of teeth.
  • Cerebral Palsy: It is a disorder of muscle tone, posture or movement which can be caused by injury, inadequate blood flow, or infection to a baby’s developing brain either early during the pregnancy or while the newborn is still young and immature.
  • Hearing problems: Deafness, is a risk that could occur in premature babies. They undergo a hearing check before getting discharged from the hospital.
  • Learning disabilities: Due to lack of brain development, premature babies, at school age, are more likely to develop impaired learning than mature babies.
  • Chronic health problems: Higher risk of developing chronic health conditions in the long run.

How to Prevent Premature Birth?

There are measures that can be taken to prevent premature delivery. However, these measures do not guarantee complete prevention, as the cause of premature birth is often unknown.

  • Cervical cerclage: Cervix and uterus problems are risk factors for preterm birth. Hence, women with a short cervix can undergo medical surgery called cervical cerclage. The cervix is stitched together in cervical cerclage. The stitches are then removed during the time of birth.
  • Progesterone supplements: Women with preterm birth history can minimize the chances of premature delivery by taking progesterone supplements. They can also help reduce the chances of preterm birth in women with a short cervix.

What Treatment is Given to Premature Babies?

Premature babies are more likely to develop several health complications. Hence, they are taken care of in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or special care nurseries. Some of the common treatments given to premature babies are:

  • Incubator support: Since premature babies cannot regulate their body temperature, they are given incubator support. Incubators are small plastic bassinets that keep your baby warm.
  • Constantly monitoring the baby’s vitals: Hospital staff will constantly monitor and update your doctor about your baby’s vitals. These vitals include temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate, etc.
  • Intravenous tube: To balance feeding disabilities in premature babies, intravenous (IV) tubes are used to pass essential nutrients to them. The use of an IV tube is necessary until your baby is strong enough to suck breast-milk. The IV tube is also useful to pass other essential fluids, nutrition, and medication to the baby.
  • Blood transfusion: Red blood cell count is usually low in preterm babies. Hence, depending on the count, doctors transfuse blood to increase the red blood cell count.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. What is the average weight of a mature baby?

The average weight of a mature boy is 7 lbs, 15 oz (3.6 kg), and that of a mature girl is 7 lbs, 7.9 oz (3.4 kg).

  1. Can premature birth be fatal?

Most preterm conditions can be handled because of medical advancements. However, if left untreated, some complications can lead to the death of the baby.

  1. What are some ways to take care of premature babies?

Your preterm baby requires additional care. Hence, you will have to make some lifestyle changes. Learning infant CPR, providing skin-to-skin contact for warmth, and monitoring vitals can help.

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