A premature birth is a birth that happens more than three weeks before the expected due date. When a woman is pregnant they can calculate when their baby is due. Dr. Arminda Veniegas adds that “[women] may go into labor around two to three weeks before [their expected due date.]”
Premature babies, especially those that are born very early, often have complicated medical problems. Usually, the complications of prematurity vary, but the earlier a child is born, the higher and more dangerous the risk of complications are.
The average pregnancy is calculated at 40 weeks from your last menstrual period. Depending on how early your baby is born, he or she may be:
- Late preterm - born between 34 and 36 completed weeks of pregnancy
- Moderately preterm - born between 32 and 34 weeks of pregnancy
- Very preterm - born at less than 32 weeks of pregnancy
- Extremely preterm - born at or before 25 weeks of pregnancy
Most premature births occur in the late preterm stage.
The Cause of Premature Births
If you are an expecting mother, here are some signs and symptoms that you should definitely look out for:
- A change in your vaginal discharge wherein it becomes watery, and acquires a bloody or mucus-like substance
- More vaginal discharge than usual
- Pressure in your pelvis or lower belly, like your baby is pushing down
- A constant low, dull backache
- Belly cramps that happen with or without diarrhea
- Regular or frequent contractions that make your belly tighten like a fist. These contractions may or may not be painful.
No one knows for sure what causes preterm labor, but there are things that may make pregnant women more likely to start labor early. These are called risk factors. There are many of these risk factors, but these three make you most likely to have preterm labor:
- A premature birth in the past
- Being pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets or more)
- Having current or past problems with your uterus or cervix
Other risk factors include smoking, excessive drinking, and not getting prenatal care. Learn about all the risk factors and talk to your provider about what you can do to help reduce your risk for preterm labor.
What Happens Next
It should be clear that if a pregnant woman experiences premature labor, it does not necessarily mean that they will be experiencing a premature birth as well. In fact, only 10% of women with premature labor will give birth within the next 7 days. For about 30% of women, premature labor stops on its own.
For premature babies, they are immediately sent to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where they recieve round-the-clock care to ensure that the baby receives the care he or she may need. This is called supportive care. Some specialized supportive care for your baby may include:
- Being placed in an incubator. Your baby may stay in an enclosed plastic bassinet (incubator) that is kept warm to help your baby maintain normal body temperature. Later on, the NICU staff may show you a particular way to hold your baby — known as "kangaroo" care — with direct skin-to-skin contact.
- Monitoring of your baby's vital signs. Sensors may be taped to your baby's body to monitor blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and temperature. A ventilator may also be used to help your baby breathe.
- Having a feeding tube. At first, your baby may receive fluids and nutrients through an intravenous (IV) tube. Breast milk may be given later through a tube passed through your baby's nose and into his or her stomach using a nasogastric or NG tube. When your baby is strong enough to suck, breast-feeding or bottle-feeding is often possible.
For other questions or concerns about premature births, make sure to contact your healthcare provider. And if you want to schedule an appointment with an obstetrician-gynecologist, you can use SeeYouDoc to easily book appointments online!