Premature Birth – Causes and Treatment

A full term pregnancy is desirable for delivering a happy, healthy baby. However, some babies have to be delivered earlier which can lead to physical and developmental issues.  This is known as a premature birth.

One definition of premature birth is a baby that is born before 37 weeks of gestation. During each week of pregnancy, the baby matures in a different way. Each of the baby’s body systems takes one step further towards completion. The lungs are the last organ to develop, just in time to breathe the air of the world outside the womb.

When a baby is born early, for any reason, each week the baby misses developing in the womb can lower the chances of developing fully, or even of survival.  Babies born prematurely often have lower birth weights and are more fragile when they enter the world. There is an increased incidence of breathing issues from underdeveloped lungs, possible problems with sight, even blindness, as well as the inability to regulate body temperature.

Causes of Premature Birth
Women can go into premature or pre-term labor for no apparent reason at all. It can be a mystery, something totally out of our control.

There are, however, cases where a quantifiable cause for the premature birth is found. Here are a few examples:

  • Placental problems (previa, abruption)
  • Infections in the uterus
  • Preeclampsia or eclampsia
  • Incompetent cervix
  • Previous preterm births

Infections are a danger to both the mother and the baby. It is difficult to treat an infection during pregnancy because of the effect the drugs may have on the baby. Infections and/or the drugs used to fight infections can lead to premature breaking of the waters and increase infection rate for the baby. The loss of amniotic fluid can also lead to premature delivery.

When there are problems with the placenta, this can cause hypoxia (lack of oxygen) for the baby. Without proper oxygenation, there can be developmental problems and the possibility of miscarriage.

Possible Treatment
Certain conditions can be diagnosed early enough that steps can be taken to prolong pregnancy as long as possible. An incompetent cervix, for example, can be closed with a procedure called a cervical cerclage. The cervix is sutured closed so that it won’t open under pressure from the growing fetus. It is also not uncommon for the mother to remain on complete bed rest to bring the pregnancy to term.

When a woman has a history of premature births, doctors can take extra precautions to help ensure that it doesn’t happen again if at all possible. This could mean more frequent visits to the doctor and additional ultrasounds.

Doctors want to avoid premature births at all cost. When there is a danger to baby, mother, or both, early delivery may be the only option, but you and your doctor should take all options into consideration for the safe delivery of your baby.