Premature Birth: Understanding The Risks And Complications

Premature Birth: Understanding The Risks And Complications

7 Feb 2023 | 4 min Read

Manisha Pradhan

Author | 1053 Articles

Becoming a parent is a joyous and exciting experience, but it can also be filled with worries and concerns. One of the biggest fears for many expecting parents is the possibility of premature birth. 

Understanding what a premature birth is, the causes, and the potential complications can help new parents prepare for the unexpected and make informed decisions about their baby’s care.

What Is Premature Birth?

A premature birth is defined as a birth that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies born before this time are considered premature because their organs and systems are not fully developed, making them more vulnerable to health problems.

Causes Of Premature Birth

There are many factors that can contribute to premature birth, including:

  • Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or a previous premature birth
  • Infections such as urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted infections, or Group B streptococcus
  • Structural problems in the uterus or cervix
  • Multiple pregnancies (such as twins, triplets, etc.)
  • Smoking, alcohol or drug use during pregnancy
  • Stress and other psychological factors
  • Being overweight or underweight before pregnancy
  • Interval of less than six months between pregnancies

Complications Of Premature Birth

Babies born prematurely are at a higher risk for a variety of complications, including:

Respiratory distress syndrome: 

This is a common condition in premature babies caused by a lack of surfactant, a substance that helps keep the air sacs in the lungs from collapsing.

Gastrointestinal issues: 

This is a serious condition in which the tissues in the baby’s intestines become inflamed and begin to die. Feeding a premature baby breast milk exclusively lowers the risk of developing this condition also called NEC.

Brain damage: 

Also known as Intraventricular haemorrhage, this is bleeding in the brain that can occur in premature babies, causing damage to the brain and other health problems. While most haemorrhages resolve with little short-term impact, some babies may have more brain bleeding causing permanent brain injury.

Heart problems: 

This is a condition in which the blood vessels in the baby’s heart do not close properly, causing blood to flow in the wrong direction and putting stress on the heart. This defect called patent ductus arteriosus often closes on its own, but if left untreated it can lead to complications like heart murmur and heart failure.

Loss of body heat

Premature babies can lose body heat rapidly since they do not have the stored body fat of a full-term infant. They can’t generate enough heat to make up for the lost heat through the surface of their bodies. The temperature dip can cause hypothermia.

Premature babies can lose body heat rapidly since they do not have the stored body fat of a full-term infant/ Image source: freepik

Retinopathy of prematurity: 

This is a condition that affects the blood vessels in the retina and can lead to vision loss or blindness.


This is a potentially life-threatening infection that can occur in premature babies.

Chronic lung disease: 

This is a long-term condition that can develop in premature babies who have been on a ventilator for an extended period of time.

Treatments for premature birth complications

The treatments for premature birth complications may vary depending on the specific condition and the severity of the problem. Some common treatments include:

Surfactant replacement therapy: This is used to treat RDS by replacing the surfactant that is missing in the baby’s lungs.

Antibiotics: These are used to treat infections such as sepsis.

Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat conditions such as PDA or NEC.

Ventilator support: Babies who are born prematurely and have difficulty breathing may need to be placed on a ventilator to help them breathe.

Monitoring: Babies who are born prematurely may need to be closely monitored for changes in their health and for signs of complications.

Preventing premature birth

While it is not always possible to prevent premature birth, there are steps that expecting mothers can take to reduce their risk:

  • Regular prenatal care: Regular prenatal care can help detect and treat potential problems early on, reducing the risk of premature birth.
  • Avoiding risky behaviours: Avoiding behaviours such as smoking, alcohol and drug use, and stress can

Pemature birth can bring some challenges, but with proper medical care and support, many preterm infants go on to have healthy and happy lives. With advances in neonatal medicine and technology, premature infants have a better chance than ever before of thriving and reaching their full potential. 

With early intervention and support, many children born prematurely can overcome the obstacles they face and lead fulfilling lives. Furthermore, many families find that the love and bonds they form with their premature infants are strong and long-lasting.

Cover image source: freepik



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