A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. Any birth that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy is considered preterm or premature.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), premature birth is a very serious health problem. It is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five worldwide. An estimated 15 million babies are born too early every year. That is more than 1 in 10 babies. Approximately 1 million children die each year due to complications of preterm birth
Complications associated with a premature birth
Babies born too early may have more health issues than babies born on time. Some problems may be apparent at birth, while others may not develop until later. The complications of premature birth may include:
1. Undeveloped lungs
A premature baby may have trouble breathing due to an immature respiratory system. If the baby’s lungs lack surfactant — a substance that allows the lungs to expand — he or she may develop respiratory distress syndrome because the lungs can’t expand and contract normally.
2. Difficulty regulating body temperature
This happens because a preterm baby may not have enough fat stores like a full term baby does. They therefore, can’t generate enough heat to counteract what’s lost through the surface of their bodies.
3. Brain injury
Babies who are born at less than 32 weeks’ gestation are at the highest risk of bleeding in the brain. While some babies will have no lasting effects, babies with severe bleeding in the brain may develop complications such as cerebral palsy, learning difficulties, behavioral and psychological problems etc
Due to an underdeveloped immune system, premature babies have a higher risk of infection. Infection in a premature baby can quickly spread to the bloodstream, causing sepsis, an infection that spreads to the bloodstream.
5. Feeding problems
When babies are born prematurely, their digestive systems may not be fully developed. They may also have not developed both the strength to suck well and the ability to coordinate the suck and swallow reflexes.
6. Heart problems
The most common heart problems premature babies experience are low blood pressure (hypotension) and patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). PDA is an opening between the aorta and pulmonary artery. While this heart defect often closes on its own, left untreated it can lead to a heart murmur, heart failure as well as other complications.
Risk factors of premature birth
- Having a previous premature birth
- Pregnancy with twins, triplets or other multiples
- An interval of less than six months between pregnancies
- Conceiving through in vitro fertilization (IVF)
- Problems with the uterus, cervix or placenta
- Smoking cigarettes or using illicit drugs
- Some infections, particularly of the amniotic fluid and lower genital tract
- Some chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes
- Being underweight or overweight before pregnancy
- Stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one or domestic violence
- Multiple miscarriages or abortions
- Physical injury or trauma
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