What is a Premature or Preterm Birth?

What is a Premature or Preterm Birth?

Preterm birth is the birth of a baby before the 37th week of pregnancy (3 or more weeks before your due date). The ideal pregnancy is 40 weeks but any birth between 37 and 42 weeks is classed as full term and only those before 37 weeks is classed a preterm or premature birth.

Just as all pregnancies are different so are all premature babies. Things that affect the outcome include the gestational age of the baby, why he or she was born premature, his or her size, the health of the mother and where the baby is born.

The most important factor is the gestational age of the baby (the number of weeks since the last period before conception). A baby born before 24 weeks has little chance of survival but each day and every week after the 24th the chances improve until at 28 weeks around 90% of babies survive if they are cared for in a Neonatal intensive care unit.

There is a big difference in the preterm babies’ gestational age. A baby born before 28 weeks is classed as extremely preterm. A baby born between 28 and 32 weeks is moderately preterm and a baby born between 32 and 37 weeks is classed as mildly preterm

The second factor is the reason the baby has been born prematurely. This may be because of an illness in Mum or the baby, sometimes both. The doctors will decide if the risks of an early delivery outweigh the risks of continuing the pregnancy. Sometimes the baby has a better chance in the NICU rather than being left in the womb. In some cases when the mother is very ill the only choice is to deliver the baby.

Some women will go into Preterm Labour, which is exactly like labour at full term, with contractions and the waters breaking. For someone who expects to get to full term the onset of preterm labour is a frightening experience.

Some babies born prematurely can have lifelong or life-threatening health problems.

The primary aim of PIPA is to provide practical and emotional support to the parents and families of premature infants. However we do not offer professional advice. We are parents of preterm baby’s and not medical staff. We do offer understanding, support, encouragement and friendship.