What is Premature Birth?
Premature birth is a term that defines the birth of a baby which is born at least three weeks prior to the due date.
Babies go through many developmental stages until they are ready to be born which means the earlier the baby is born the higher is their risk of death and disability. Premature birth is also called preterm birth.
What are the Different Stages of Premature Birth?
Obstetricians, gynaecologists and child specialists have divided premature birth into four stages which are:
Late preterm: Babies born between 34 and 36 weeks of pregnancy fall into this category. Studies show that most premature babies are born in the late preterm stage.
Moderately preterm: Preterm babies who are born between 32 and 34 weeks of pregnancy are moderately preterm babies.
Very preterm: Babies born before 32 weeks of pregnancy are called very preterm babies.
Extremely preterm: Premature babies born before or at 25 weeks of pregnancy fall into this bracket. The chances of survival for these babies may be quite low when compared to other categories.
Are There any Symptoms of Premature Birth?
In majority cases preterm labour comes in unannounced and unexpected. Some signs that may indicate beginning of labor are:
- Bleeding from the vagina
- An increase in the vaginal discharge
- Contractions every 10 minutes or more often in some cases
- Pressure on the pelvic floor
- Pain in the lower back
- Cramps in the abdomen
What are the Risk Factors for Premature Birth?
The causes of preterm birth are quite vague. But Gynecologist in Islamabad believes that following conditions make a women more at risk of delivering a premature baby:
- History of miscarriages or abortions
- History of premature births
- Problems within the cervix, placenta or uterus
- Excessive smoking
- Conceiving through fertility treatments like IVF
- A gap of less than six months between previous and current pregnancy
- Suffering from chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure
- Being overweight before pregnancy
- Being underweight before pregnancy
- Infections of the lower genital tract or amniotic fluid
- Happening of traumatic life events like death of a loved one or domestic violence
- Physical injuries
Can Premature Birth be Dangerous for the Mother and Baby?
Premature birth is not that complicated for mothers when compared to the complications that the baby may suffer from. Following is a list of problems which a premature baby suffers from in the initial weeks after they are born:
- A premature baby is unable to breathe because their respiratory system may not be fully developed. So these babies suffer from respiratory distress syndrome because their lungs are unable to expand and contract normally.
- Intraventricular hemorrhage or bleeding in the brain is quite common for preterm babies. The earlier the baby is born the higher is their risk of having bleeding in the brain. In most cases the condition resolves within a short period of time but some baby’s brains get permanently damaged due to it.
- Some premature babies are diagnosed with PDA which causes an opening between the aorta and pulmonary artery. This defect often closes down on its own but it should definitely be monitored because if left untreated it can lead to heart failure. Low blood pressure is another common heart problem that premature babies suffer from.
- Premature babies suffer from gastrointestinal problems like necrotising enterocolitis also known as NEC in which the cells lining the bowel get damaged.
- Premature babies are unable to control their body temperature because they don’t have stored body fat like a full term baby.
- Problems within metabolism are also common in premature babies. It may be because they have smaller amounts of stored glucose than full term babies. The condition causes low blood sugar levels.
- Preterm babies are more at risk of developing blood problems like newborn jaundice and anaemia.
- Immune systems of preterm babies are not fully developed so they may have a higher chance of getting infections.
Some long-term complications that premature babies suffer from are:
- Premature babies have learning disabilities because they lag behind in various developmental milestones.
- Preterm babies are at an increased risk of having some degrees of hearing loss.
- Vision problems like retinopathy of prematurity are also common in premature babies.
- Developmental delays in premature babies may lead to certain behavioural and psychological problems.
- Cerebral palsy is another common disorder in preterm babies. It affects a person’s ability to move and maintain posture. It is caused by infections or injuries to the premature baby’s brain.
- Delayed tooth eruption, improperly aligned teeth and discolouration of tooth are common dental problems in premature babies.
Can Premature Birth be Prevented?
According to Best Gynecologist in Lahore the rate of premature birth can be reduced by following certain strategies which are:
- Giving women access to complete health care facilities before, during and after their pregnancy.
- Offering treatment options to women who may indicate signs and symptoms of premature birth.
- Educating women to maintain at least a gap of 18 months between their pregnancies.
- Helping women prevent unintended pregnancies.
- Opting for single embryo transfers when going for IVF because being pregnant with multiple babies increases the risk of premature birth.
Which Medications and Surgical Procedures Help Prevent Premature Birth?
Even though the exact cause of premature birth is mostly unknown. Following are some medications and surgical procedures that can reduce the risk of premature birth for women who are at an increased risk:
- Progesterone supplements are prescribed to women who have a history of preterm birth and may also be identified with a short cervix to reduce their chances of preterm birth.
- Cervical cerclage is a procedure performed for pregnant women who have a short cervix. In this surgery the cervix is stitched with sutures that provide support to the uterus. These sutures are removed when it’s time for the baby to be delivered.