Preterm birth, also known as premature birth, is the birth of a baby at fewer than 37 weeks’ gestational age, as opposed to the usual about 40 weeks. These babies are known as preemies or premies. Symptoms of preterm labor include uterine contractions which occur more often than every ten minutes or the leaking of fluid from the vagina.
Premature infants are at greater risk for cerebral palsy, delays in development, hearing problems and sight problems. These risks are greater the earlier a baby is born.
Preterm birth is the most common cause of death among infants worldwide. About 15 million babies are preterm each year (5% to 18% of all deliveries). Approximately 0.5% of births are extremely early periviable births, and these account for most of the deaths. In many countries, rates of premature births have increased between the 1990’s and 2010’s.
Complications from preterm births resulted in 0.81 million deaths in 2015 down from 1.57 million in 1990. The chance of survival at 22 weeks is about 6%, while at 23 weeks it is 26%, 24 weeks 55% and 25 weeks about 72%.The chances of survival without any long-term difficulties are lower.
Certain events can stimulate the onset of premature labor. These include:
- placental abruption, where the placenta separates from the uterus during pregnancy
- incompetent cervix, where the cervix painlessly and gradually opens before the time it is supposed to
- hormonal changes, which can cause stress in the unborn baby or mother
Experts don’t know all the reasons that some babies are born too early. Some things (called risk factors) can increase the chance that a woman will have a preterm birth. However, a woman can still have a premature birth even if she has no known risk factors. Some risk factors for preterm birth include delivering a premature baby in the past, being pregnant with multiples, tobacco use
Signs and Symptoms of Preterm Labor
In most cases, preterm labor (labor that happens too soon, before 37 weeks of pregnancy) begins unexpectedly and the cause is unknown. Like regular labor, signs of early labor include.
- Contractions (the abdomen tightens like a fist) every 10 minutes or more often
- Change in vaginal discharge (a significant increase in the amount of discharge or leaking fluid or bleeding from the vagina)
- Pelvic pressure the feeling that the baby is pushing down
- Low, dull backache
- Abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea
If you have any signs or symptoms of preterm labor, call your healthcare provider right away.