Think Tank

World Prematurity Day: Possible Causes and Risks Associated with Premature Birth

Premature birth, also known as preterm birth, is the event of an infant being born before 37 weeks of the pregnancy, also known as gestation period. In a normal human foetus, several organ systems (most notably the lungs) reach maturity between 34 and 37 weeks of gestation. Thus, this final phase is crucial for overall stability of the newborn’s health.

World Prematurity Day

Possible Causes

The biological events that precede preterm delivery are:

  • Premature labour induction
  • Premature labour

In normal cases, when a baby’s organ systems are developed and matured near the end of a normal gestation of 37 weeks, the mother’s nervous system senses this, and periodic, frequent uterus contractions start occuring. This phenomenon is termed as “going into labour”.

In case of premature labour, these uterine contractions occur well before time. This is not false labour, because it is generally followed by physiological changes like dilatation of the cervix, indicating preparation for delivery. It is generally accompanied by unnatural strain on the mother’s body, such as vaginal bleeding, lower back pain and heavy pressure on the pelvis. The actual delivery is preceded by a rupturing of the membranes surrounding the foetus, and vaginal discharge.

Research has identified several dominant risk factors that influence premature births:

  • Maternal Factors
    • Anatomical reasons like pregnancy at an age of less than 18 years or being underweight.
    • Increased number and frequency of pregnancies
    • Inadequate maternal nutrition
    • Marital status, with single mothers at higher risk due to psychological factors
    • Genetic and demographic reasons
    • Specific maternal diseases and disorders, including sub-fertility
  • Pregnancy Term Factors
    • Use of fertility medication & fertility techniques such as IVF
    • Anatomical issues such as weak cervix, high vaginal bleeding during pregnancy
    • Excessive intake of tobacco, narcotics, alcohol etc.
    • Infections: These can be foetal infections as well as maternal infections, which can be passed on to the foetus during gestation
  • Incomplete development of dominant organ systems leaves a preterm infant exposed to several neonatal risks, such as:
    • Neurological problems, dominated by conditions such as brain bleeds, which if severe, can lead to permanent brain damage or even death
    • Cardiovascular complications (weak heart)
    • Respiratory problems, such as respiratory distress and lung diseases
    • Infections like sepsis, pneumonia, urinary tract infections etc.
  • Managing Preterm Newborns
  • Care in this phase is critical, as the infant is most vulnerable during the first few days of birth. Care involves protection from infections, resurrection of the immune system, and providing a stable environment for the delayed and prolonged organ system maturity – however long that may be. For more support and answer to your questions, please contact a CARE gynecologist today.
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