The average length of a pregnancy is 40 weeks, or 280 days, from the date of conception to your baby's birth. As you are well aware, however, life doesn't always go according to plan. If your baby is born before 37 weeks' gestation, he or she is considered premature.
Prematurity can involve extra complications. Depending on how early your baby was born and his/her birth weight, your bub may not be fully developed and could potentially suffer health issues as a result. Your premature baby may need to be admitted to a specialised unit that's specifically designed to look after sick and/or premature newborns. These can be called Newborn/Neonatal Intensive Care Units, Special Care Nurseries or Intensive Care Nurseries.
What are the causes?
The cause of prematurity is often unknown. However, it may be linked to some of the following conditions:
- A multiple pregnancy
- Placental abruption, when the placenta detaches from the uterus
- Placenta previa, when the placenta grows too low in the uterus
- Premature rupture of membranes, when the amniotic sac is torn
- Pre-eclampsia, which can cause high blood pressure and protein in the urine
- The opening to the uterus may dilate or thin too early
- The mother has given birth to a premature baby in the past
- The mother has a history of miscarriages
- The mother and/or baby has other health conditions
- Drug abuse by the mother
What will affect the baby's condition?
Many different conditions can have an impact on the health of your premature baby. These include:
- The baby's birth weight
- How premature the baby was
- How developed the baby's organs are
- The mother's health
- Any existence of infections
- Whether your baby has access to specialised care
What are the effects?
A premature baby may suffer from one or more of the following complications:
- Heart defects
- Respiratory problems
- Apnea, when the baby stops breathing for a short time
- An inability to breastfeed or bottlefeed
- Issues with body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate
- Under-developed lungs, digestive system and nervous system
- Respiratory distress syndrome
- Necrotising enterocolitis, when the baby's intestines are destroyed as a result of infection
- Retinopathy of prematurity, when the blood vessels in the baby's eyes don't develop normally