Preterm Babies – Born Before The 37th Week

There are about fifteen million babies born premature every year.  That is about one in every ten babies are born too soon. A premature birth is when a baby is born before the thirty-seventh week of pregnancy.  If you have a premature baby your stay in the hospital may be longer, and depending on how early your baby came may mean that they need to stay in the NICU, Neonatal intensive care unit.  The time a baby has to stay in the NICU will vary from case to case, depending on how early the baby is born. 


Potential Causes


Though prematurity is so common, there isn’t always an exact reason as to why some babies are born early.  There are some things that make the chance of premature birth more likely. If the mother is younger than seventeen or older than thirty-five there is a higher chance of having a premature birth.  Other things that could cause a premature birth are having high blood pressure, having diabetes, or having kidney disease before you become pregnant. If you have had multiple miscarriages or abortions you have a higher chance of having a premature birth too.  If you became pregnant from in-vitro fertilization you have a higher chance as well. Previous premature births can cause you to have future premature births. If you are pregnant with multiples, such as twins or triplets you may have a premature birth. If the mother has problems with her uterus, cervix, or placenta this can lead to pregnancy complications and premature birth being one of them.  Other risks are if you don’t stop smoking or taking illegal drugs, if you have an infection of the amniotic fluid, if you were underweight or overweight before becoming pregnant, or if you experience physical injury or stress. Some people though who have premature births have none of these underlying issues or risk factors as to why their baby was born early. 


Tiers of Prematurity


There are tiers of prematurity.  The most common one is called late term premature birth which is a baby born between the thirty-fourth and thirty-sixth weeks of pregnancy.  The next one is moderately preterm, is between thirty-two weeks and thirty-four weeks. The next tier is very preterm which is when a baby is born anytime less than week thirty-two.  Extremely preterm the last tier is when a baby is born at or before week twenty-five.  




If you have a premature baby there are some signs of prematurity that may be noticeable.  The main sign of prematurity is the small size of your baby. The baby won’t have as much body fat so they will be a little underweight.  They may also have fine hairs all over their body, these usually fall off when the baby is still in the womb. Your baby may have respiratory distress, or trouble breathing, or trouble feeding or sucking.  These are normal signs of prematurity. 


Possible Treatments


If your baby is born too early and needs a stay in the NICU they could be in the NICU for just a couple days, or maybe weeks to months depending on how much intervention the baby needs.  Some normal things that your baby may need while in the NICU is being kept in an incubator. This will help keep the baby’s temperature regulated. When premature a baby doesn’t have as much body weight, so they lose heat faster than their body can keep it warm.  Your baby may also need to be kept hooked up to oxygen. Either from a mask, nasal cannula, which is a tiny tube that pushes the oxygen up through the nostrils, or a ventilator, where the baby will have a tube down their throat to push oxygen into their lungs. Depending on if your baby was born way premature, then they may need help feeding.  This can be done given their nutrition through an IV if the baby can’t suck. How long the baby is held in the NICU depends on the baby. Usually babies will be released from the NICU when they can feed on their own, either breast fed or bottle fed, when they can breathe on their own and keep their oxygen levels stable, and when they can maintain their own body weight. 




There are some short term complications that a baby can experience when born prematurely.  One of these is respiratory distress, this is because their respiratory system is immature.  Other systems that can be affected by premature birth are the GI system (gastrointestinal system), and the Immune system.  With the immune system being underdeveloped this makes the baby more susceptible to infections. If they were to develop an infection it can be very serious very quickly leading to sepsis and other complications.  A premature baby could have heart problems, the most common being patent ductus arteriosus and low blood pressure. Brain problems can occur in preterm babies that are extremely early, the earlier a baby is born it increases the chances of a brain bleed.  Temperature control can also be a complication, due to the fact the baby just doesn’t have the body weight or fat to keep their little bodies warm, and their little systems have a harder time keeping their bodies warm.  

There are long term complications as well.  These include cerebral palsy, impaired learning ability, vision problems, hearing problems, dental problems, behavior or psychological problems, asthma, feeding problems, and a higher risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).  


Don’t Panic


There are a lot of babies born each year premature.  Thankfully there is a 95% survival rate of premature babies.  Just because your baby is born prematurely doesn’t mean they will have any of these signs or complications.  Every baby is different and every pregnancy is different. Your doctor will know how to take care of you and your baby if it looks like premature delivery may happen.  Your doctor can try and give the mother medication to delay labor. This doesn’t always work and if it doesn’t your doctor may have other things to try before they deem you a high risk delivery and deliver your baby early.  Make sure if you have a premature delivery you ask as many questions as you can of your doctors so you have all the information to take care of your premature baby.  

Thankfully there is a 95% survival rate of premature babies. 



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