Table of Contents
Definition of Premature Birth
The delivery of an infant before 37 weeks gestational age, also called preterm birth. Though viability is possible after 24 weeks, many fetal organ systems do not reach maturity sufficient for independent life until near full term.
Sometimes there are warning signs of premature birth that allow the doctor to attempt to delay childbirth by administering medications to stop uterine contractions. The doctor may also help the fetus prepare for independent life. Giving the mother injections of betamethasone, a corticosteroid, accelerates the fetus’s lung development.
Though premature birth does not present any unusual risk for the woman, it often results in mild to moderate health challenges for the infant.
Very early premature birth, between 24 and 32 weeks, presents grave health risks for the infant, who commonly requires extensive medical care for several weeks to several months, depending on the gestational age at birth.
About 10 percent of babies in the United States are born prematurely. The most common causes of premature birth are multiple pregnancy and preeclampsia. Women who have diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and chronic kidney disease have increased risk for premature delivery.
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