Causes and complications of preterm birth

Causes and complications of preterm birth

Causes and complications of preterm birth


For the first time in history, the world’s primary factor of young children’s deaths is not an infectious disease or war, but rather it’s preterm (premature) birth. Each year, almost one million children under five years of age fall prey to the direct complications of preterm birth. If the maths is right, it’s about 3000 deaths of young souls per day from causes that include lack of warmth, respiratory complications due to lung immaturity, or lack of feeding support. But what exactly is preterm birth?

Birth is considered preterm or premature when the childbirth occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy. A healthy and normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. Those final two to three weeks in the womb are essential for the full growth of various vital organs, including the lungs and brain, and healthy weight gain. This is the reason why premature babies may have more medical difficulties and may need an extended hospital stay. They may also have long-term health problems, such as physical disabilities or learning disabilities.

Causes of preterm birth

The cause of a preterm birth often remains unidentified. However, specific factors are known to improve a woman’s risk of going into labor early.

A pregnant woman with any of the following health conditions is more likely to have a preterm birth:

  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • kidney disease
  • high blood pressure

Pregnancy-related factors associated with premature birth include:

  • Poor nutrition before and during pregnancy
  • Using illegal drugs, smoking, or drinking too much alcohol during pregnancy
  • Certain infections, such as amniotic membrane and urinary tract infections
  • Premature birth in a previous pregnancy
  • An abnormal uterus
  • A weakened cervix opening early
  • Pregnant women also have a risk of delivering early if they are older than 35 or younger than 17.

Complications of preterm birth:

The earlier the birth of a baby, the more chances of it having medical problems. A preterm newborn may show these symptoms soon after birth:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Low weight
  • Low body fat
  • Inability to maintain a constant body temperature
  • Less activity than normal
  • Movement and coordination problems
  • Difficulties with feeding
  • Abnormally pale or yellow skin
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

Preterm newborns may also be born with life-threatening situations. These can include:

  • Brain hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain)
  • Pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding in the lungs)
  • A bacterial blood infection called as neonatal sepsis
  • Pneumonia, an infection causing the inflammation of the lungs
  • Patent ductus arteriosus (an open hole in the primary blood vessel of the heart)
  • Anemia (a deficiency of red blood cells for carrying oxygen throughout the body)
  • A breathing disorder caused by underdeveloped lungs called neonatal respiratory distress syndrome

Some of these complications can be resolved through conventional critical care for the newborn. Others can result in long-term illness and disability.

Doctors conduct several tests on preterm infants soon after childbirth. These tests help recognizing the complications and help lessen the risk of complications. Doctors also monitor infants continuously during their hospital stay.

Common tests include:

  • Chest X-ray and 2d echo to evaluate lungs and heart development
  • Blood tests to assess blood counts, infection, glucose, calcium, and bilirubin levels
  • Blood gas levels analysis to determine blood oxygen levels

How to prevent the chances of preterm birth?

Getting proper and prompt prenatal care decreases the risks of having a preterm birth.

Other necessary precautionary measures include:

  • Maintaining a healthful diet before and during pregnancy: Make sure to eat a lot of lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Taking calcium and folic acid (bread, cereals, and pasta) supplements is also highly recommended.
  • Drinking plenty of water every day: The recommended amount is eight glasses per day, typically, but you must drink more if you exercise during pregnancy.
  • Taking aspirin daily beginning in the first trimester: If you have a history of premature birth or high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe you take 60 to 80 milligrams of aspirin per day.
  • Quitting usage of illegal drugs, smoking, or overusing certain prescription drugs: These actions during pregnancy may lead to a higher chance of certain birth issues as well as miscarriage.

Attending a doctor, especially a gynecologist, during pregnancy is a great way to avoid the risks of preterm birth. A doctor may be able to recommend additional preventive measures that can help reduce your risk of giving birth prematurely.