The road to motherhood sometimes isn’t as drama-free as often thought; this does not detract anyway from the joyous experience that is childbirth. Normal delivery usually occurs between the 38th – 40th week marks and anything earlier is considered to be preterm or premature birth. Prematurity still remains a major cause of infant death the world over, this is mainly due to the underdevelopment of various vital organs most especially the brain and lungs. This portends more medical problems, longer hospital stays for affected infants and long-term health issues such as nervous system disorders and learning disabilities.
Premature babies are at risk of multiple health problems and soon after birth will tend to show some signs of ill-health.
These signs include:
- Difficulty breathing as lungs might be underdeveloped
- Low body weight and low body fat
- Inability to maintain a constant body temperature
- Problems with feeding
- Coordination and movement problems
There is also the likelihood of being born with life-threatening conditions such as hypoglycaemia, patent ductus arteriosus (a heart problem where there is an unclosed hole in the main blood vessel of the heart) to mention just a few. These conditions can be resolved through proper critical care but the probability of long-term disability still remains.
What causes premature birth and how can this be avoided you might ask? The causes of premature birth are often unidentifiable; however, there are certain factors that can increase the likelihood of it occurring. This can be divided into Health-related causes and Pregnancy-related causes, although some health conditions occur in some mothers only during pregnancy.
Pregnant women with the following pre-existing conditions are at a higher risk of premature birth. These include:
- High blood pressure / Heart diseases
- Kidney Disease
- Liver Disease
Pregnancy-related causes include:
- Drinking too much alcohol, smoking or using illicit drugs during pregnancy
- Poor diet before and during pregnancy
- Previous history of premature birth
- Certain infections such as Urinary tract infections
- Early opening of a weakened cervix
- An abnormal uterus
- Being pregnant at a young age (<17 years of age)
- Being pregnant at an older age (>35 years of age)
Sometimes even without the occurrence of any of the above factors, premature births still occur.
Despite the difficulties associated with premature births, there is a great advancement in caring and management of both mother and babies and this have significantly improved survival rates.
Join us next time as we discuss the treatment and preventive measures that can be taken to reduce the occurrence of premature birth.