Every Mum to be wants a happy healthy baby. Increasingly though, and this is true across the world, more and more babies arrive into the world before their time and are classed as premature babies.
Thanks to advances in medical science the prognosis for a premature baby, even one born as early as 26 weeks, is far better than it used to be but every premature baby and their parents will face lots of special challenges that most full term babies will never have to face because they did not get enough time to develop in the womb.
What is Considered a Premature Delivery?
A normal pregnancy is considered to be one that last for between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy. Any baby that is born before 37 weeks is therefore considered to be a premature baby and will need special care.
The first thing that it is very important to note when discussing premature birth is that in the case of about half the babies that are born prematurely every year the exact cause is never really determined. Too often women are “blamed” for causing their baby’s premature birth by their spouse, their family and their friends. This is very unfair and distressing, especially at a time as difficult as right after the birth of a premature child.
There are some things though that may increase the risk of premature birth and there are others that make the premature delivery of a child a necessity for their survival. Here are some of the more common ones:
Multiples – It is very common for multiples to be born prematurely and this is often planned to preserve the health of the Mum and the babies. In many cases though the birth is only a few weeks early and although they do have to spend more time in the hospital than their full term peers these babies do normally thrive and are perfectly healthy once their development catches up.
Placenta Previa – Placenta previa is a potentially very dangerous condition in which the baby’s placenta is lying in the wrong place and blocking the cervix. Dangerous bleeding can occur during delivery if the condition is left untreated and in many cases an early Cesarean section is called for to preserve Mum and Baby’s health. The reason why placenta previa occurs is not completely understood.
Lack of Prenatal Care – It can seem to a pregnant woman that her visits to the doctor are rather routine and nothing much seems to go on at these appointments. A lack of basic prenatal care though can be a contributing factor in premature birth as problems that could have been detected at a regular doctor’s visit go unnoticed.
Smoking – Women who smoke during their pregnancy are risking the fact that their child will be born prematurely. Smoking by the mother reduces the amount of oxygen that is available to Baby in the womb and can delay their proper development, especially the proper development of the lungs.
If a woman is a smoker before she becomes pregnant quitting as soon as possible immediately reduces the risk so as hard as it is it is really worth making the effort to quit.
Excessive Alcohol – Drinking during pregnancy is a controversial subject these days. An increasing number of doctor’s feel that the occasional glass of a low alcohol wine is probably not harmful for a pregnant woman or her baby (there are still others who disagree though) What no doctor disputes though is that drinking to excess can lead to birth defects and the risk of premature birth is significantly increased.
Diabetes – Women with diabetes who become pregnant are at a higher risk for premature birth but these days with careful management that risk can be significantly reduced.
Obesity – Being significantly overweight during pregnancy can cause all kinds of problems and statistically women whose BMI puts them in the obese category ( 30 or higher) are at greater risk of giving birth prematurely.
High Levels of Stress – When people tell a woman that stress is bad for their baby they are not just being concerned, it really can be and high levels of stress are believed to be a contributing factor in many cases of premature birth. Leading a stress free life while you are pregnant is probably not going to be possible but keeping yourself as relaxed as possible is crucial.
Infection – Sometimes a particularly bad infection – even a severe UTI can trigger premature labor. Certain STDs can do the same.
Spontaneous Preterm Labor – Many of the babies who are born prematurely come into the world ahead of time because their mother goes into spontaneous preterm labor and the reasons why this occurs is something that is the subject of ongoing research by scientists from all over the world.
The latest research seems to indicate that in some cases the body’s natural reaction to infection may trigger preterm labor but still very often doctor never do determine just what caused pre term labor in individual cases.
Maintaining a healthy diet, quitting smoking and drinking alcohol, maintaining a sensible weight and keeping up with prenatal care while avoiding stress as much as possible are all things that women can do to help reduce the risk of premature birth but no one can prevent the unknown and with so many cases of premature birth going unexplained the habit of blaming the mother is one that should be discouraged. A premature baby needs all the love and support that they can get and that should always be their new family’s focus instead of playing the blame game.