5 Things You Should Know About Premature Birth

December 18, 2019

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Heideh Matterson, M.D. contributes to topics such as Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine.

About one in every 10 babies is born too early in this country. That’s about 380,000 babies. “When a baby has had less time to develop in the womb, he or she is often born with problems,” says Heideh Matterson, M.D., clinical neonatologist at Mountainside Medical Center. “That’s because many organs, including the brain, lungs and liver, are still developing in the final weeks of pregnancy.”

Problems can range from mild to severe, and may include breathing and feeding issues, cerebral palsy, developmental delays, and vision and hearing problems. While advances in medical care have resulted in more premature babies surviving today than ever before, premature birth and its complications remain the largest contributors to infant death in the U.S., according to the March of Dimes.

Here are five facts you should know about premature birth.

  1. A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks.

Any delivery before 37 weeks is considered premature. The later in the pregnancy the baby is born, the better the long-term outcome. Premature birth sub-categories are based on how far along the pregnancy is, measured in weeks, from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual cycle to the current date.

  • Extremely preterm is before 28 weeks
  • Very preterm is 28 weeks to before 32 weeks
  • Moderate to late preterm is 32 weeks to before 37 weeks

Most premature fatalities happen when a child is born prior to 32 weeks of pregnancy.

  1. Certain factors increase the risk of preterm delivery.

Those factors include:

  • Being pregnant with multiples
  • Having given birth prematurely before
  • Using tobacco or abusing alcohol or drugs
  • Having less than 18 months between pregnancies
  • Having certain reproductive organ abnormalities, such as a short cervix
  • Being younger than 18 or older than 35
  • Being African-American
  • Having an infection or chronic condition such as diabetes
  1. Signs of premature labor include:
  • Regular contractions. These are different from Braxton Hicks, which are more irregular and will subside with rest and oral hydration, says Robert H. O’Donnell, D.O., OB/GYN hospitalist at Mountainside.
  • Change in vaginal discharge
  • Pressure in the pelvis or lower belly
  • Menstrual-like cramps or a constant, lower-back ache
  1. Premature babies need special care.

Most spend time in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). This specialized nursery is designed to provide the infant’s basic needs, including warmth, nutrition and protection, to ensure the preemies get the best possible care for proper growth and development.

  1. You can reduce your chance of premature delivery.

Experts don’t know why some babies are born prematurely and sometimes a pregnant woman can do everything right and still give birth too early. However, there are ways to reduce the chances of premature delivery. They include:

  • Don’t smoke, use alcohol or drugs during pregnancy
  • Be aware of the signs of premature labor
  • See a doctor throughout your pregnancy and get treated for any chronic conditions you have, including high blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid issues
  • If you’ve had preterm birth before, speak to your doctor about the use of serial ultrasounds and the use of progesterone, suggests Dr. O’Donnell

Learn more about maternity services at Hackensack Meridian Health and how your baby’s health is our top priority.

Dr. Matterson practices in Montclair, Westwood, Edison, Old Bridge and Perth Amboy. Dr. O’Donnell practices in Brick and Montclair. To make an appointment, call 855-424-9355. To find a provider near you, visit HackensackMeridianHealth.org.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


March of Dimes