There have been modern developments in caring for babies who are born prematurely. However, in terms of fixing the problem of premature birth (preterm labour) there has not been very much improvement. It is not fully understood why some women break their waters or go into labour too early.
A premature baby who has not fully developed can be at a higher risk of health problems.
Approximately one in three babies is delivered prematurely for medical reasons. This can be for the mother’s safety or the baby’s or both. The following is a list of reasons that can cause premature birth:
- Your work is very strenuous or physically demanding
- You have experienced miscarriages previously during the second trimester
- You have had three or more terminations
- You are younger than 17 or older than 35
- You smoke or use illegal drugs
- You have had a premature baby delivered previously or experienced preterm labour before
- You are carrying more than one infant
- You have an abnormally shaped uterus or abnormal cervix
- You became pregnant whilst using an IUD and was left in place during the pregnancy
- You have kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, pre-eclampsia, an infection or other medical condition
- You have a cervical infection such as group B streptococci, chlamydia, syphilis, gardnerella, trichomoniasis or gonorrhoea
- You were seriously underweight when you became pregnant
- You are not receiving appropriate antenatal care
- Your mother used the medication diethylstilboestrol (DES) whilst pregnant with you
- You have had a cone biopsy of your cervix
A pregnancy normally lasts forty weeks and this is measured from the first day of the last period (38 weeks after fertilisation). The opening of the cervix, (contractions and dilation) prior to the 37th week is premature labour. Premature babies are born before the 37th week.
If your baby is born too early there is a strong possibility that his or her lungs won’t be sufficiently developed which means your baby could be put on a ventilator to facilitate breathing. Unfortunately using a ventilator can have its complications therefore doctors do try to ensure the baby is off the ventilator as soon as possible.
Maintaining a normal body temperature is a difficulty for some premature babies. They must be kept warm so they do not become hypothermic. Being fed intravenously is also common with premature babies because they often have not yet adequately developed the muscles which coordinate sucking and swallowing.
Other complications which can afflict premature babies can be:
- Bleeding in the brain
- A higher risk of infections in particular meningitis and septicaemia
- Kidney function problems
Premature babies suffer from increased risks of health complications in the future. These can include chronic lung problems, cerebral palsy, hearing impairment, visual impairment or blindness.
There is no accurate way to predict which mothers will suffer from preterm labour. There are no definite preventative measures to ensure they won’t deliver premature babies. However, there has been some advancement in decreasing the risks and there have been vast improvements in the care and treatment of premature babies.
By Eirian Hallinan