When a baby is born at least three weeks before its due date, it is considered a premature baby.  Ideally, a woman should give birth after a full 40 weeks but about 10-15% of women will go on to have premature babies. Many babies born premature will not have  health problems but have a higher risk of health problems than a full term baby.

It is not uncommon for expectant mothers in India to worry about delivering a premature baby. Of course, there is no question that the latest advancements in science have made the survival of a baby born as early as 24 weeks a reality. It may be required that the baby spend anywhere from weeks to months in a neo-intensive care unit with 24-hour monitoring, but the emotional toll on the parents can be overwhelming. Just being aware of what one can expect giving birth to a premature baby and being prepared will assuage any fears you may have.

When a baby is born between 34 and 36 weeks of gestation, it is considered a late-preterm birth. A big cause for this is a C-section delivery.  For this reason alone, it is important to determine the due date as accurately as possible. Premature babies that are born between 32 and 33 weeks of gestation are at risk for health problems.  A rule of thumb is the earlier a baby is born, the more likely it is to experience complications.  However, the latest strides in neonatology have greatly improved the chances of not just survival but also of avoiding developmental delays as a result.

What are the causes of premature birth

Spontaneous preterm labor, either due to the rupture of the amniotic sac or maternal infections is the leading cause of premature births. Although, the processes leading up to it are not well understood, most experts believe that early detection of problems in the expectant mother can often prevent a premature birth.

Also, a significant number of premature births result from the induction of labour before the due date owing to health problems or complications in either the mother or fetus. In this instance, the safest way to go may be to opt for an early cesarean section.

Unfortunately there are also cases where the mother opts for an early cesarean section due to a common misconception that a 36 week gestation is sufficient; it is advised that women wait at least 39 weeks. If they must induce labour or undergo a C-section, it should only arise from conditions that make it unsafe for the mother or fetus to go past that point in the pregnancy.

What puts a woman at increased risk for premature birth

While it is true that premature delivery can happen to anyone, there are certain risk factors that contribute to it.

  • Women that have already had a premature birth are more likely to have one in the future
  • Women that are carrying multiple fetuses are at a definite risk for premature delivery
  • Women that have cervical abnormalities, diabetes, blood pressure among others are usually at high risk for premature birth

Although a woman may have one or more of these risk factors, it does not necessarily mean that she will have a premature delivery; regular doctor-checkups along with healthy habits can go a long way in helping an expectant mother go full-term.