Early birth

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If you start having regular contractions that cause your cervix to begin to open before you reach 37 weeks of pregnancy, you're in preterm labor. (It's also known as premature labor.)
If you deliver your baby before 37 weeks, it's called a preterm birth and your baby is considered premature.
Going into preterm labor does not mean you'll have a premature baby. Up to half of the women who experience preterm labor eventually deliver at 37 weeks or later.

Consequences

Preterm birth can cause serious health problems or even be fatal for a baby, particularly if it happens very early. In general, the more mature a baby is at birth, the better his chances of surviving and being healthy.

  • Some preterm babies may have problems breathing.
  • Prematurity also puts a baby at a greater risk for brain hemorrhage.
  • The nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs may be affected too.
  • Preterm babies are more prone to infection and jaundice and may have difficulty feeding as well as trouble maintaining their body temperature. 

The majority of premature babies are born between 34 and 37 weeks. If these "late preterm infants" have no other health problems, they generally do significantly better than those born earlier, though they still face a higher risk of problems than babies who are born later in pregnancy.

Symptoms of preterm labor

  • More vaginal discharge than usual.
  • A change in the type of discharge – if you're leaking watery fluid or your discharge becomes watery, mucus-like, or bloody (even if it's pink or just tinged with blood).
  • Any vaginal bleeding or spotting.
  • Abdominal pain, menstrual-like cramping, or more than four contractions in one hour (even if they don't hurt).
  • More pressure in the pelvic area (a feeling that your baby is pushing down).
  • Lower back pain (especially if it is dull or rhythmic, or if you didn't previously have back pain).

Are you at increased risk for premature birth?

  • Have you had a previous premature birth?
  • Are you pregnant with twins, triplets or more?
  • Do you have any uterine or cervical abnormalities?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Are you overstressed?
  • Do you have long periods of standing in your work?
  • Are you exposed to certain environmental pollutants?
  • Do you have infections such as urinary tract, vaginal?
  • Are you facing in your pregnancy high blood pressure, preeclampsia, or diabetes?
  • Have you been underweight or obese before getting pregnant?

If you have one or more of these conditions, discuss the matter with your gynecologist.

What medical complications are common in premature babies?

The most common complications in premature babies are:

  • Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS).
  • Apnea.
  • Intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH).
  • Jaundice.
  • Anemia.
  • Infections: Premature babies have immature immune systems that are inefficient at fighting off bacteria, viruses and other organisms that can cause infection.