Newborns are considered to be premature if they come into the world before 37 weeks instead of the usual 38 to 42 weeks. Premature babies weigh much less than full-term babies and may have health problems because their organs didn’t have time to develop.
A premature birth can be a terrifying and shocking experience, especially if the due date is months away. The impact on parents can be devastating.
A pre-term delivery can happen to any woman, even those at low risk, so it’s a good idea to learn the signs of pre-term labour.
The good news is that babies born up to 8 weeks early have about the same chances of survival and normal development as babies born full term. Babies born after 24 to 25 weeks are mature enough to survive, although they’ll need a long period in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and could need special premature baby care when they go home.
Tracey Spicer has an amazing story of prematurity which provides inspiration and reassurance for any parent of a premature baby or who has gone through preterm labor.
Tracey is the patron of Australia’s National Premmie Foundation, which provides services and support for families and carers of premature babies in Australia.
The Neonatal Trust New Zealand provides support for families of premature babies here in New Zealand.
About half of prematurity cases are unexplained, although researchers have identified those at greatest risk of having a premature baby are:
Certain medical conditions during your pregnancy may increase the likelihood of prematurity. These conditions include:
Some studies have found that certain lifestyle factors increase the risk of prematurity. These factors are:
Around 8% of babies born in New Zealand every year are premature. Many will grow up healthy but others aren’t so lucky. Even with the best of care, prematurity can result in lasting disabilities such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, learning problems, chronic lung disease, and vision & hearing problems. Half of all neurological disabilities in children are related to prematurity.
Premature babies are also at greater risk from Respiratory Syncytial Virus which is the most common cause of lower-respiratory-tract infection in babies and children and highly contagious. In babies with prematurity, RSV may cause life-threatening conditions.
Remember, even if you have one of these risk factors, it does not mean you’ll definitely give birth early. It just means there’s a greater of risk of prematurity. Still, knowing there’s risk is scary, so please learn the signs of pre-term labor.
As with any pregnancy, aim for optimum health and wellbeing, starting with good preconception nutrition and fitness. Quit smoking if you’re a smoker and avoid alcohol and drugs. Also, visit your GP as soon as you know you’re pregnant to plan your antenatal care, including regular ultrasounds. Stress can be a contributing factor to prematurity so take easy, learn relaxation techniques if you’re prone to stress, and pull back from tasks, commitments and people that induce stress. Pregnancy is a wonderful time to be a woman – sit back, relax and enjoy it as much as possible.