Kathryn J. Shaw (Maternal-Fetal Medicine, White Memorial Medical Center, Los Angeles) gives expert video advice on: How do I know if I am at risk for a premature birth?; What are the complications for a mother with a premature birth?; When will my premature newborn be ready to go home? and more...
What is a "premature birth"?
A premature birth refers to the delivery of an infant prior to 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. A full term human pregnancy is 40 weeks.
What are the causes of a premature birth?
The causes for premature birth are many in number. It is an area of obstetrics that remains a significant problem. The causes that are most widely recognized for preterm or premature birth include infectious problems. Premature birth is also more common if you have more than one foetus, meaning that women with twins or triplets are clearly at risk for an earlier delivery. If there is exposure to certain drugs, including cigarettes, crystal meth or any amphetamine, this increases the chance for premature labour. Half of all premature births are actually recommended by the physician, meaning the patient has a medical problem necessitating an early delivery.
What are the complications for a mother with a premature birth?
The complications for a mother if she experiences premature labor or a premature birth relate in part to the cause. If the mother has premature contractions, this may require prolonged hospitalization or bed rest. Often it will require the use of medications that can have some serious side effects for the mother. Some of these side effects might just be discomfort; some of them can be threatening to her health. Premature birth is associated with a higher risk for requiring cesarean delivery.
What are the complications for my baby if he or she is born premature?
The complications for an infant born premature depend on the point in pregnancy that that baby was delivered. The most critical gestational age where we see the most complications is if that infant delivers at less than 28 weeks gestation. The most common concerns we have for the premature infant would relate to respiratory difficulties, as the immature lung is not equipped to breathe air. Other common complications that a premature baby faces would be a spontaneous hemorrhage in the brain, which can have long term neurological problems for the infant. Other problems would include hearing and visual problems, in part related to prematurity, also in part related to the therapy they require.
When will my premature newborn be ready to go home?
When the premature newborn would be ready to go home depends on the point at which that baby delivered, the gestational age and the complications that that newborn experienced in its initial neonatal life. The earlier the delivery, the longer that premature infant would require support in that hospital. The endpoints to know when a premature baby's ready to go home will depend on reaching a certain weight criteria. Usually around four pounds, or a little over two kilograms, is a common endpoint. Also, it's important that that newborn is able to maintain his or her body temperature and has learned how to feed, as these are common problems that the premature infant has difficulty with.