Premature Birth | Preterm Birth

When a baby is born early in a woman’s pregnancy, it is called preterm birth. Most pregnancies last about 40 weeks. A preterm birth occurs before 37 weeks.

Preterm births and health concerns

Babies born before 37 weeks are more likely to have health problems at birth and in the future. Health problems may include:

  • Lung and breathing problems

  • Vision problems

  • Infections

  • A heart problem where the heart does not grow properly

  • Bleeding in the brain

  • Jaundice

  • Anemia, or not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen

Signs of preterm labor

If you have any signs of preterm labor, call your doctor or midwife right away. Signs of preterm labor are:

  • Water or discharge leaking from your vagina

  • 5 or more contractions in one hour

  • Cramps in your back or abdomen that come and go

  • Backache that comes and goes

  • Feeling like your baby is pushing down on your vagina

  • Stomach cramps with or without diarrhea

What happens if my baby is born prematurely?

Most preterm babies will spend time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU. If the hospital your baby was born at does not have a NICU, he or she will be transferred to one that does.

The NICU provides a high level of round-the-clock care that babies born prematurely often need. Parents are involved in decision making and the care of their newborn at the hospital. Talk to your doctor or nurse about your concerns.

Who's at risk for having a preterm baby?

You may be at risk for preterm birth if you:

  • Have had a preterm baby in the past

  • Are pregnant with more than one baby

  • Have problems with your cervix or uterus now or have had problems in the past

Certain medical conditions increase preterm labor risks

There are medical conditions that increase your risk of preterm birth. Some of these are:

  • Being pregnant with a baby that has health problems

  • Being overweight or underweight

  • Having medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, or sexual transmitted diseases or other infections

  • Getting pregnant less than six months after the birth of another baby

  • Having In Vitro fertilization

  • Having a family member who had a preterm baby

Tips for preventing preterm birth start with special care for your baby

Sometimes we do not know what causes preterm birth. The best way to prevent preterm birth is to:

  • Get prenatal care as soon as you find out you are pregnant, if not before

  • Don’t drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, or use drugs while pregnant

  • Get to a healthy weight before getting pregnant. If you are already pregnant, talk to your doctor or midwife about your weight

  • Work with your doctor or midwife to care for any health conditions you have

  • Protect yourself from infections and illness

  • Find ways to reduce your stress

  • Wait at least 18 months after the birth of a child to get pregnant again

The highest level of care for newborns

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center is staffed with highly trained specialists and provides 24-hour coverage for newborns. The NICU is a Level III Unit, providing complete care for the most critically ill newborns.
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