Preterm or premature birth risk impacts one in 10 pregnancies. A premature baby misses the vital fetal development that occurs in the final weeks of pregnancy, and this impacts his post-natal growth milestones. For this reason, these babies are more prone to health problems and require more care in the initial years following birth. There are many factors that contribute to the premature birth risk. However, with adequate preparation and guidance, you can prevent preterm labor and even manage your premature baby without many medical complications.
What Is Premature Birth
A full-term pregnancy ends with childbirth in the 40th week. When a child is born before the 37th week, he is considered premature. Depending on the early culmination of pregnancy and childbirth ahead of time, premature birth risks can be categorized as:
- Late preterm (34-36 weeks)
- Moderate preterm (32-34 weeks)
- Very preterm (25-32 weeks)
- Extremely preterm ( prior to 25th week)
Most premature births take place between 34 and 36 weeks. A child is likely to miss fetal development milestones depending on the preterm birth category he belongs to.
Premature Birth Complications
A preterm baby often suffers from postnatal medical complications as he is not fully developed in the womb. As a result, the gestation period is cut short, the baby gets less time to develop and misses many vital pre-natal milestones.
Here is a list of possible complications that may accompany premature birth risk.
- Stunted physical features: Underdeveloped baby with a large head disproportionate to small body size, lacking full-term physical features, low body temperature, immature liver, low birth weight, and lack of reflexes. Similarly, there is also the danger of respiratory distress, and feeding difficulties.
- Short-term complications: Respiratory problems, sudden infant death syndrome, sleep apnea, hypotension, heart problems that may need surgical correction of pulmonary correction, risk of mild-to-moderate brain hemorrhage, brain injury, fluid accumulation, hypothermia, immature gastrointestinal systems, low immunity, metabolic disorder, enhanced risk of sepsis, anemia, and infant jaundice.
- Long-term complications: Cerebral palsy, nervous system problems, chronic lung disease, suppressed immune system, impaired cognitive skills, missed developmental milestones, vision, hearing, and dental problems. At the same time, behavioral and psychological disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, asthma, and infection leading to chronic hospital care are visbile in such children.
Why Premature Birth
There is no specific reason to point out why preterm labor starts early on and results in the birth of premature babies. Like the timing of preterm childbirth, causative factors vary from one woman to another. Accordingly, the risks and effects. In fact, a host of reasons are found to contribute to the premature birth risk. These include:
- Genital tract infections linked to certain bacteria
- Weakened amniotic sac membrane rupturing early on
- Uterus infection and inflammation
- Prior history of preterm birth
- Presence of kidney infection, pneumonia, appendicitis
- Asymptomatic urinary tract infection
- Placenta problems leading to its abrupt rupture
- Excessively large uterus, which is often the case when you’re pregnant with multiple fetuses or have too much amniotic fluid
- Cervix structural abnormalities
- Abdominal surgery
Factors Increasing Premature Birth Risk
Women with following conditions are more likely to give birth to premature babies.
- Earlier premature baby birth
- Pregnant before 17 or after 35
- Severe anemia during pregnancy
- Carrying twins or multiples
- Becoming pregnant within six months of childbirth
- Use of in-vitro fertilization to conceive
- Uterine, cervical, or placenta abnormalities
- Smoking, drinking, or drug abuse
- Lack of nutrition during pregnancy
- Underweight or overweight pregnant women
- History of genital tract infection
- Excessive stress in life or trauma or domestic abuse victim
- Prior multiple miscarriages or abortions
- Vaginal bleeding in the second trimester
- Lack of adequate prenatal care
- Sleep disorder or night-shift jobs
How To Know If I Face Premature Birth Risk
Symptoms of impending preterm labor
If you have any of the following symptoms visible early on, you may face an increased risk of giving birth to a premature baby.
- More than normal vaginal bleeding in the first trimester
- Blood-tinged or watery vaginal discharge or spotting in the second trimester
- Menstrual-like cramping in the lower abdomen
- Higher rate of abdominal or uterine muscle contraction
- Unusual pressure in the pelvic region
- Cervical insufficiency
Diagnostic Tests for Premature Birth Risk
- Ultrasound measurement of cervix length
It involves ultrasound tests to monitor and measure your cervix to ascertain if it is opening or thinning out. Any such change or diagnosis of cervical insufficiency indicates an impending preterm childbirth because cervix is unable to hold on. You may be advised to have a cerclage while progesterone supplements also benefit in such cases.
- Fetal fibronectin screening
The test checks the level of fetal fibronectin protein in cervical and vaginal secretions and ascertain the risk accordingly. The protein secreted by fetal membranes works as an adhesive and keeps the fetal sac fixed to the uterine lining. If the test detects leakage into the vagina, it warns about the possibility of premature birth risk. In that case, the mother may be prescribed corticosteroids and other medications to help the baby develop at a faster speed.
Notice the changes your body is experiencing during pregnancy. First and foremost your awareness allow you to remain cautious and prevent any threat. If you notice unusual pain or pressure, consult your doctor immediately. Adequate care before and during pregnancy is the first and foremost defense against premature birth risk.
How To Prevent Premature Birth Risk
- Take plenty of rest, have sufficient nutrition, and maintain a healthy lifestyle because attention help avoid preterm birth risk.
- Learn about the risk factors and try to minimize them with proper precaution, regular medical checkup, and required changes in your dietary habits. Keep an eye on symptoms and consult your doctor if any of the signs are visible.
- Ensure you have a healthy pregnancy diet, as it helps you remain fit. In the absence of a proper diet, you may become obese or underweight, leading to an increased risk of preterm labor. A strong body free from complications assures full-term pregnancy.
- Avoid processed foods or food high in fat or sugar while checking your weight regularly and maintaining a healthy BMI score.
- Refrain from active or passive smoking, drinking, late-night partying, or taking drugs without prescription while learning healthy habits conducive to your pregnancy.
- A proper amount of calcium, fish oil, vitamin C and E in the body negates the threat of preeclampsia, a complication with the potential to cause preterm labor. Keep a tab on vitamin C and E and calcium level from the time of pregnancy planning.
- Protect yourself against any kind of viral or bacterial infection. Furthermore, you must pay attention to vaginal infection, as this is a potent risk factor.
- The progesterone supplementinjections help prolong pregnancy beyond 37 weeks by cutting down the risk of preterm labor in case of prior history of membrane rupture.
- Cervical cerclage is an option for those suffering from rapid cervix changes or cervical insufficiency. Stitching of the cervix with sutures helps bring down the risk of preterm delivery.
- Ensure you are protected from exposure to chemicals, pollution, and radiation. Certain chemicals, such as phthalates, present in plastic, cosmetics, deodorants, and canned food may increase the premature birth risk.
Ravneet also blogs at www.wellnessguide.com