Prematurity may be more common than you might think. Knowing the risk factors and some signs of premature birth can help prevent it.
Although not an ideal situation, it is estimated that approximately 15 million babies are born prematurely each year. It means that more than one in ten babies come into the world before the time considered normal and healthy.
In almost all countries with reliable data sources, premature birth rates are increasing. For instance, in 2020, one of every ten babies was born premature in the United States.
When we talk about preterm labor, it means the one that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy. As it can be due to several causes, it is important to be attentive if you have any risk factors. It is also necessary to properly follow the recommendations of your doctor.
So keep reading to learn more about the signs of premature birth, as well as its main causes and risk factors. This way, you’ll be able to reassure your premature baby’s growth and development.
What is a premature birth?
Pregnancy usually lasts between 37 and 42 weeks, and a delivery within that period is called full term. Premature birth happens before 37 weeks, when the baby is still under development.
Premature birth, or preterm birth, is divided into three types, according to the gestational week in which it occurs. The more premature the baby is, the more care they will require.
Types of prematurity
- Moderate to late preterm: occurs between the 32th and 37th weeks of gestation;
- Very preterm: occurs between the 28th and 32th weeks of pregnancy;
- Extremely preterm: occurs before the 28th week of pregnancy.
What are the main causes of premature birth?
The causes of a premature birth can be various, such as blood loss in the third trimester of pregnancy, previous premature labor and being pregnant before 16 or after 35 years old..
The conditions of the current pregnancy can also cause various complications, including weakening of the uterine cervix, placental abruption and rupture of the amniotic sac. As a result, the birth can be anticipated due to safety issues for the mother or baby.
There are other circumstances that may require some precautionary measures. Therefore, during your prenatal tests, your health history should be investigated by the doctor.
Thus, pregnant women with chronic diseases (diabetes and high blood pressure), clotting disorders, bacterial and viral infections, preeclampsia, among other problems, are more closely monitored.
What are the risk factors for premature birth?
Although we have mentioned several causes of premature birth, the baby can sometimes come into the world prematurely without any apparent cause. Thus, it is important for you to be alert about certain risk factors, such as:
- Short break between two pregnancies (less than 18 months);
- Use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco;
- Gestational complications;
- Excessive stress and anemia;
- Multiple pregnancy.
What are the signs of premature birth?
Preterm labor often starts unexpectedly and the cause may be unknown. However, there are some symptoms and signs of premature birth. They are:
- Change in vaginal discharge: significant increase in the amount of fluid or occurrence of vaginal bleeding;
- Preterm labor contractions: the abdomen is tightened every 10 minutes or less regularly;
- Pelvic pressure: feeling that the baby is pushing down;
- Abdominal cramps: may or may not be accompanied by diarrhea;
- Dull pain in the lower back.
In heavy vaginal discharge, there is a possibility that amniotic fluid may have leaked, which is called antepartum rupture of the membranes. This issue can increase the risk of infection for both mother and baby.
If you notice any signs of preterm labor, it’s a good idea to schedule a visit to your gynecologist as soon as possible.
What kind of home care is recommended for pregnant women at risk of premature birth?
If the pregnant woman does not need to remain hospitalized and is released to wait at her home, it is recommended to monitor the frequency of contractions and any changes in the usual pattern of the baby’s movements.
When there is a loss of vaginal secretion, it is important to inform the obstetrician or go to the maternity unit. This is even more necessary when observing that the fluid is greenish or has a bad smell, as well as in case of presence of blood and occurrence of high body temperature.
What kind of care does a premature baby need?
Care varies according to the degree of prematurity, as you can see next:
- Moderate to late preterm babies: they do not always need special medical care, as long as their vital signs and weight are adequate;
- Very preterm babies: they are usually hospitalized for a period so that the neonatal devices can help with physiological functions;
- Extremely preterm babies: they always need special care given the low maturity of their organs, especially the lungs.
The hospitalized premature baby may need the help of a mechanical ventilator to breathe. In extremely preterm babies (less than 28 weeks), apnea of prematurity, a common physiological condition, may occur. This particularity causes the newborn to take prolonged pauses during breathing.
Kangaroo care consists of a practice in which the mother holds her child skin to skin, maintaining full contact between her body and that of the newborn. On the other hand, the baby’s back is covered with a blanket to keep him warm.
Breast milk improves the health, growth and development of premature infants. So, even if your baby can’t suckle right at the beginning, you can extract your milk immediately after birth, using your hand or a breast pump. Thus, your baby will be able to receive their breast milk through a tube or a cup.
And did you know that in the first few weeks after birth, mothers of premature babies produce breast milk with a slightly different composition? This milk is rich in proteins and minerals and is intended to meet the specific needs of premature babies.
Also, since fat promotes brain development, this milk is especially important after premature birth because it contains types of fat that are better digested and absorbed by the baby.
We hope that you have learned more about premature birth, especially its causes and the main risk factors, and know how to act in case your baby is born prematurely.
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