Prematurity 101 For Prematurity Awareness Month

Once you’re pregnant, one of the things you guard against is preterm delivery. All moms want is to keep their baby baking for as long as they need, typically upwards of 37 weeks. But since there’s a lot that’s outside of anyone’s control, preterm or premature babies are born all the time.

A few years ago, prematurity was one of the leading causes of infant death, but thanks to medical science, many premature babies live long and happy lives. But we want to know more. 

 

What causes a baby to be born prematurely? 

There are many reasons that a baby is born early. Some are controllable and others entirely outside of our control. One reason expectant moms are asked to stop smoking and drinking alcohol is that these activities are known to affect the growth of the baby in utero and cause preterm birth. 

Some other causes of prematurity are:

  • High maternal stress levels, depression, high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • The number of babies in utero — multiples are often born prematurely as space runs out.
  • Pre-eclampsia (a type of high blood pressure that occurs in pregnancy), calcification of the placenta, and placental abruption.
  • The age of the mother can also affect the likelihood of prematurity. Women under 17 and over 35 are more likely to birth premature babies.

 

Why is it so dangerous? 

A baby is considered premature when born before 37 weeks gestation. Although there are only three or so weeks until the baby is full-term, those weeks are essential for the proper growth of internal organs and weight gain. 

Babies that are born when they are very small lack the resilience of full-term babies. They also lack certain important reflexes, such as the ability to suckle, affecting their ability to feed. 

Premature babies, or preemies as they are known, often spend a few days, weeks or months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU. In the NICU, they’ll be inside an incubator which controls the environment. It helps the baby breathe, sometimes feeds the baby through a tube, and sounds an alarm if the baby’s breathing or heart rate stops or slows dangerously.

 

What differences will a premature baby experience? 

The differences between a full-term and a premature baby don’t stop at infancy. Babies that are born prematurely may experience some or all of the following complications:

  • Weak lungs that are prone to infection and apnea, or cessation of breathing.
  • Developmental delays, both in terms of cognitive and learning as well as physical.
  • Bradycardia, or a slowed heart rate.
  • Vision loss or blindness, and hearing loss or deafness.

 

What can be done to prevent preterm birth?

There are a few things which help to reduce the likelihood of preterm birth. Regular visits with a healthcare professional experienced in pregnancy and birth, and living a healthy lifestyle both help enormously. 

If you go into early labour, your doctor can give you medications to stop labour as well as steroids to help kickstart the premature lungs. Generally, doctors will do what they can to keep the baby inside for as long as possible, while keeping both mom and baby safe.

 

How does caring for a preemie differ?

Preemies take special care, even more than a full-term baby. A baby can be released from NICU when it can breathe on its own, breast- or bottle-feed, and regulate its own body temperature. Since preemies often have weak immune systems, it’s incredibly beneficial to feed them breast milk which includes a lot of antibodies. 

They’ll need to be fed more frequently, as their tummies are even tinier. You’ll have to pay special attention to their breathing, to enable you to rouse them if they stop breathing. A medically certified baby breathing monitor is incredibly useful when caring for a premature baby. In fact, we at Snuza have formed a partnership with Lullaby Trust in the UK to provide support and fund research into SIDS related deaths.

In light of Prematurity Awareness Month this November, we hope this has helped educate you on the causes and consequences of premature birth. 

 

Sources:

  1. Why Are Babies Born Early? https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/born-early.html
  2. Premature Infant: https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/premature-infant
  3. Causes of premature birth: https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/pregnancy-complications/premature-birth/causes-premature-birth
  4. Premature Birth Complications: https://americanpregnancy.org/labor-and-birth/premature-birth-complications/