Premature birth can be dangerous for both mother and child because it is a departure from the normal progress of pregnancy. Babies in particular are prone to a number of health problems as a result of premature birth, ranging from neurological disorders to potential death. Because premature birth is hazardous, doctors and mothers usually take a number of steps to avoid it, including extreme steps like bed rest. The goal is to keep the baby or babies in utero for as long as possible.
Premature birth is defined as any birth after viability, but before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Normal pregnancies last 40 weeks; viability is defined as the stage of fetal development when a fetus can survive outside of the body. Babies as young as 23 weeks have survived premature birth, although most infants born that early experience severe health problems.
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The risk of premature birth is increased in mothers pregnant with multiple children, and as a general rule, mothers expecting multiple birth are monitored closely for signs of early labor, which can include contractions, breakthrough bleeding, or rupture of the amniotic fluid. When signs of premature labor are observed, medical professionals try to delay the labor; following the rule of thumb that every day in the womb cuts two days off a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) stay.
When babies are born prematurely, it means that they have not had time to develop fully, and this can result in severe health problems. One of the biggest risks of premature birth is respiratory problems, due to the underdeveloped lungs of the infant. Cardiovascular and neurological problems are also common, as are digestive problems, caused by the fact that the fetus has not fully developed its internal organs yet.
When premature birth is caused by birth defects, these birth defects can become more profound as a result of the fact that the fetus did not fully develop inside the mother. A variety of medical treatments ranging from the use of steroids to surgery can be used to treat birth defects, infections, and other medical problems associated with premature birth, but sometimes these problems cannot be overcome, and the infant may experience permanent problems.
Premature birth is also linked with low birth weight, which can cause health problems later in life, even if the infant appears to be normal. Low birth weight has been linked with developmental delays, diabetes, and weight gain later in life.
For mothers, premature birth is generally extremely stressful, and it can also be dangerous. Mothers may experience heavy bleeding or hemorrhage, and in instances where a Cesarean section is required, the mother is at risk of infections and other complications from surgery. Some studies have also linked premature birth and low birth weight with maternal health problems like cardiovascular disease.