What is Premature Birth?
Premature birth occurs when a baby is born more than three weeks prior to the expected due date. Premature babies (also known as preemies) have not grown and developed within the womb as much as babies born to term. In pregnancy, a “term” is 40 weeks, so babies born prior to 37 weeks are considered premature.
CAUSES & RISKS
Why are Babies Born Early?
In the majority of cases, doctors cannot specify why a baby arrives early. For cases with a specific cause, however, it is often related to a health issue with the mother. Some material conditions that can cause premature birth include the following:
- Diabetes (high blood sugar)
- Hypertensions (high blood pressure)
- Heart problems
- Kidney problems
- Vaginal, urinary, or amniotic membrane infections
Other risk factors for prematurity include the following:
- Low-lying placenta (placenta previa)
- Placenta separating from the uterus (placental abruption)
- Abnormally shaped uterus
- Multiple birth (twins, triplets, or more)
- Underweight mother
- Smoking, drug, or alcohol use during pregnancy.
Do Premature Babies Need Unique Care?
Yes, premature babies typically have a range of special needs. Preemies tend to be much smaller and have more health problems than babies born near their expected due dates. Initially, preemies tend to receive care in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Following care in the NICU, preemies can have issues such as slower muscle development that may contribute to problems sucking, feeding, and building gross motor skills. Since preemies also tend to have slower reflexes, they usually also need help building fine motor skills as well. Brain and nervous system development outside of the womb may put the baby at-risk for neurological disorders. As preemies grown into toddlers and preschool age, they may need extra help with speech, language, learning, and self-help skills development.
For these reasons, doctors recommend early childhood intervention and professional therapy to help preemies navigate infancy and toddler years. Preemies may also benefit from extensive physical and occupational therapy to build motor skills. As these children grow, they may also enroll in speech therapy and similar programs to ensure success in school and social interaction. Contact The Warren Center for more information on early childhood intervention (ECI) programs ideal for premature infants.