What Is Considered A Permature Baby?

Premature (also known as preterm) birth is when a baby is born too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed. The earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of death or serious disability.

Risk Factors

Experts don’t know all the reasons that some babies are born too early. Some things (called risk factors) can increase the chance that a woman will have a preterm birth. However, a woman can still have a premature birth even if she has no known risk factors. Some risk factors for preterm birth include delivering a premature baby in the past, being pregnant with multiples, tobacco use and substance abuse, and short time (less than 18 months) between pregnancies. Additionally, pregnancy complications can result in preterm birth because the baby has to be delivered early.

Signs and Symptoms of Preterm Labor

In most cases, preterm labor (labor that happens too soon, before 37 weeks of pregnancy) begins unexpectedly and the cause is unknown. Like regular labor, signs of early labor include—

  • Contractions (the abdomen tightens like a fist) every 10 minutes or more often
  • Change in vaginal discharge (a significant increase in the amount of discharge or leaking fluid or bleeding from the vagina)
  • Pelvic pressure—the feeling that the baby is pushing down
  • Low, dull backache
  • Abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea

If you have any signs or symptoms of preterm labor, call your healthcare provider right away.

How is prematurity diagnosed?

A baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy is considered premature or born too early. Prematurity is defined as:

  • Early term infants. Babies born between 37 weeks and 38 weeks, 6 days. These babies are early but not premature.

  • Late preterm infants. Babies born between 34 weeks and 36 weeks, 6 days.

  • Very preterm. Babies born at or below 32 weeks.

  • Extremely preterm. Babies born at or below 28 weeks.

How is prematurity treated?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment may include:

  • Corticosteroid medicine given to the mother before a premature birth to help the baby’s lungs and other organs grow and mature

  • Watching the baby’s temperature, blood pressure, heart and breathing rates, and oxygen levels

  • Temperature-controlled bed or incubator

  • Oxygen given by mask or with a breathing machine called a ventilator

  • IV (intravenous) fluids, feedings, or medicines

  • Special feedings with a tube in the stomach if a baby can’t suck

  • X-rays or other imaging tests

  • Skin-to-skin contact with the parents (kangaroo care)

What are possible complications of prematurity?

Premature babies are cared for by a neonatologist. This is a doctor with special training to care for newborns. Other specialists may also care for babies, depending on their health problems.

Premature babies are born before their bodies and organ systems have fully matured. These babies are smaller than they would have been if they were born at full term. They may need help breathing, eating, fighting infection, and staying warm. Extremely premature babies, those born before 28 weeks, are at the greatest risk for problems. Their organs and body systems are not ready for life on their own outside the mother’s uterus. And they may be too immature to function well even with intensive care support.

Some of the problems premature babies may have include:

  • Keeping their body temperature steady or staying warm

  • Breathing problems, including serious short- and long-term problems

  • Blood pressure problems due to immaturity of various organ systems (especially low blood pressure in early hours and days)

  • Blood problems. These include low red blood cell counts (anemia), yellow color to the skin from breaking down red blood cells (jaundice)

  • Kidney problems due to immaturity

  • Digestive problems, including immature absorption and digestion. Most premature babies need intravenous IV nutrition for some time at birth. In some cases there may be inflammation and death of parts of the intestine (necrotizing enterocolitis). Babies are often not able to feed by mouth until closer to their due date and will need tube feedings. The best feeding is mom’s own milk. If this isn’t possible, donor human milk from a milk bank is the safest alternative.

  • Nervous system problems, including bleeding in the brain or seizures

  • Infections

Premature babies can have long-term health problems as well. Generally, the more premature the baby, the more serious and long-lasting the health problems may be.

Can prematurity be prevented?

More babies are surviving even though they are born early and are very small.  But it is best to prevent preterm labor if possible.

It’s important to get good prenatal care while you are pregnant. Your healthcare provider can help find problems and suggest lifestyle changes to lower the risk for preterm labor and birth. Some ways to help prevent prematurity include:

  • Stopping smoking if you smoke. You should stop smoking before you are pregnant.

  • Finding out if you are at risk for preterm labor

  • Learning the symptoms of preterm labor

  • Getting treated for preterm labor

Your healthcare provider may give you the hormone progesterone if you are at high risk for preterm birth. Progesterone can help if you have had a past preterm birth.

How is prematurity managed?

Premature babies often need time to catch up in both development and growth. In the hospital, this catch-up time may mean learning to eat and sleep, as well as steadily gaining weight. Babies may stay in the hospital until they reach the pregnancy due date. They may be cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Talk with your baby’s healthcare provider about when your baby will be able to go home. In general, babies can go home when they:

  • Have no serious health conditions

  • Can stay warm in an open crib without added heat

  • Take all feedings by mouth, maintaining their expected growth rate

  • Have no recent periods of not breathing (apnea) or low heart rate

Before discharge, premature babies need an eye exam and hearing test to check for problems linked to prematurity. You must be able to give care, including medicines and feedings, before your baby can go home. You will also need information about follow-up visits with the baby’s healthcare provider and vaccines. Many hospitals have special follow-up healthcare programs for premature and low-birth-weight babies.

Even though they are otherwise ready to go home, some babies still have special needs. This includes things such as extra oxygen or tube feedings. You will learn how to take care of your baby if they need these things. Hospital staff can help set up special home care.

Ask your baby’s healthcare provider about staying overnight in a parenting room at the hospital before your baby goes home. This can help you adjust to caring for your baby while providers are nearby for help and reassurance. You may also feel more confident taking your baby home when you know infant CPR and safety.

Premature babies are at increased risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). You should always put your baby down to sleep on their back.

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