Premature Birth: What You Should Know

February 23rd, 2024 | 10:36 am


As of today’s lifestyle and dieting patterns, premature or preterm birth has become a common phenomenon, which is a matter of concern among pregnant women. A premature birth may cause complications to the health of the baby as the final few weeks before delivery are crucial for healthy weight gain and the complete development of vital organs. Preterm babies need extra care and monitoring to help them grow outside of the uterus in special care units. Hence, it is important to be aware of its insights and essential aspects.

What is Premature Birth?

When a baby is born prior to a normal gestation period of 39 to 40 weeks, typically before the completion of 37 pregnancy weeks, it is termed Premature Birth. Such babies born prematurely are referred to as preterm babies or “preemies”. Premature birth may pose serious health risks for such babies as well as to their mothers. 

The last few weeks of foetal development are essential for the healthy growth of the baby, along with the development of vital organs like the lungs and the heart. That’s why premature babies tend to experience more medical problems and have long-term health issues, like learning or physical disabilities. They require an extended hospital stay under the supervision of doctors and care providers.

Preterm births can be distinguished into four categories.

  • Late preterm: When the baby is born between 34 and 36 weeks.
  • Moderately preterm: When the baby is born between 32 and 34 weeks.
  • Very late preterm: When the baby is born before 32 weeks.
  • Extreme preterm: If a baby is born before 25 weeks of pregnancy, it is an extremely preterm baby.

Why does Premature Birth Happen?

Many risk factors may lead to an increased risk of going into labour earlier than expected, leading to the preterm birth of a baby. In some cases, healthcare providers may need to induce labour prematurely to prevent health complications in the mother. 

Pregnant women may give birth prematurely due to a number of different reasons, including the following.

  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Chronic health conditions, such as high BP (Blood Pressure) or diabetes 
  • Having heart or kidney diseases 
  • Multiple pregnancies (i.e., having twins or triplets)
  • Too little time between successive pregnancies (less than 18 months)

Pregnancy-related factors may also lead to a premature birth, such as:

  • Having an abnormal uterus
  • Having a shortened or weakened cervix
  • Infections like amniotic membrane infections and urinary tract infections
  • Poor nutrition before and during pregnancy
  • Premature birth in a previous pregnancy 
  • Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy

Pregnant women who are younger than 17 and older than 35 are also at a higher risk of early labour, leading to premature birth. 

Complications of Premature Birth

A full-term pregnancy is necessary for the growth of babies; otherwise, it can cause serious health problems in them. Premature babies are more likely to experience problems in their hearts, kidneys, lungs, or liver. The earlier a baby is born, the more likely they are to experience such health problems. They may even be born with life-threatening conditions.

Some of the common health conditions suffered by premature babies may include the following.

  • Pneumonia 
  • Hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar
  • Anaemia
  • Apnea of prematurity, a condition in which there are temporary pauses in breathing while sleeping 
  • Neonatal sepsis (blood infection in neonates)
  • Intraventricular haemorrhage (brain bleeding)
  • Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (underdeveloped lungs)
  • Retinopathy (underdeveloped blood vessels in the eyes)
  • Patent ductus arteriosus (abnormal blood flow to the heart)
  • Necrotising enterocolitis (inflammation of the intestines)

Premature babies are also at risk of facing challenges in physical development, causing them to have health issues later on in life, including:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Physical disabilities
  • Hearing or vision problems
  • Poor or stunted growth
  • Cerebral Palsy

After birth, a premature baby may start showing some signs of health problems, which may include:

  • Low weight or body fat
  • Breathing or feeding difficulties
  • Inability to regulate body temperature
  • Quieter and having less activity than normal
  • Problems with movement or coordination
  • Very pale or yellow skin

Taking Care of Premature Babies

Babies born preterm are specially assessed and monitored right after birth. Extensive testing may help identify health problems present at birth and help prevent further complications. Premature babies are often kept under observation and monitored continuously for an extended period of time at the hospital. Doctors may try to prevent premature delivery by providing appropriate medications to the mother that may delay delivery. 

If a pregnant woman needs to deliver a baby prematurely, or doctors aren’t able to prevent premature labour, doctors and healthcare providers may make necessary arrangements to take care of both the premature baby and the mother. After birth, the infant may be put in a neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for as long as required to ensure that they receive immediate care after birth.

Since the newborn baby is required to stay for a few weeks in the NICU, doctors and neonatal care specialists focus on supporting the development of the baby’s vital organs. The NICU may be a temperature-regulated incubator where the neonates may be kept. They are constantly monitored through monitoring equipment attached to the incubator that may track the baby’s breathing, heart rate, and blood oxygen levels. It may take quite a few weeks or even months for the baby to be able to sustain without life support.

Premature babies without fully developed lungs may also be required to provide oxygen. Depending on how well the newborn baby can breathe on their own, they may require assistance from either one of the following mechanisms:

  • Ventilator: It is a machine that helps to pump air in and out of the lungs.
  • CPAP: Expanded as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, it is a treatment that relies on the use of mild air pressure to ensure that the baby’s airways stay open.
  • Oxygen hood: This is a device that fits on the baby’s head to provide oxygen.

Most premature babies don’t develop swallowing or sucking coordination abilities, due to which they are provided vital nutrients either intravenously or by inserting a tube through their nose or mouth that reaches their stomach. When the babies become strong enough to suck or swallow liquids provided to them, they may be breastfed or bottle-fed as per instructions and guidance from the doctors.

After the newborn babies are handed over to their parents, they can be breastfed or bottle-fed liquids and may be able to breathe without external support. They may be released from the hospital after ensuring that they are also able to regulate their body temperature and have a healthy weight.


Premature birth may sometimes be necessary for preventing complications in both the mothers and the foetuses. However, premature birth can be potentially harmful for newborns due to the associated health concerns. Such health concerns are promptly addressed by the doctors, often under the supervision in a NICU, to ensure that they gain healthy weight & develop their vital organs, and become healthy babies. The best way for mothers to prevent unwanted preterm birth is to stay healthy throughout the pregnancy and abide by the advice of their doctors.

Are you worried about your health during pregnancy? Seek expert advice and extensive evaluation of your health to understand your chances of having preterm labour or childbirth from the best ObGyn doctors and neonatal care specialists at Giggles Hospital. 

Contact us today and start your journey towards a healthy pregnancy and childbirth.