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Premature Births

What is a Premature Birth?

Health care providers consider labor to be preterm if it starts before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Because a fetus is not fully grown at 37 weeks, and it may not be able to survive outside the womb, health care providers will often take steps to stop labor if it starts before this time. Common methods for trying to stop labor include bed rest and medications that relax the muscles in the uterus involved with labor and delivery.

A premature birth is also called a preterm labor.

Symptoms of a Premature Birth

Some of the common symptoms of a premature birth are:

  • Contractions every 10 minutes or more often (they don't have to be painful)
  • Clear, pink or brownish fluid (water) leaking from your vagina
  • Pelvic pressure—the feeling that your baby is pushing down
  • Low, dull backache
  • Cramps that feel like your period
  • Abdominal cramps, with or without diarrhea

If you believe you are about to give birth to a premature child, call your doctor or go to the hospital immediately.

Complications of a Premature Birth

Premature infants face a number of health challenges. Some of the common health challenges include low birth weight, breathing problems, and underdeveloped organs and organ systems. Many infants that are born prematurely need to stay in the hospital until their health is stable, sometimes several weeks or more.

Breathing Difficulty of a Premature Baby

Premature babies usually will cry only softly, if at all, and may have trouble breathing. They have trouble breathing because her respiratory system is not fully developed. If the baby is more than two months early, its breathing difficulties can cause serious health problems, because the other organs in her body may not get enough oxygen. If the baby needs help breathing, it may be given extra oxygen, or special equipment may be used temporarily to do some of her breathing for her.

Characteristics of Premature Babies

A baby that is born prematurely may neither look nor behave like a full-term infant. While the average full-term baby weighs about 7 pounds at birth, a premature newborn might weigh 5 pounds or even less. The earlier the baby arrives, the smaller the baby will be, the larger her head will seem in relation to the rest of her body, and the less fat she will have.

After a quick examination in the delivery room, the baby will probably be moved to a special-care nursery.

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