What is a preterm birth? Preterm birth is defined as parturition before 37 weeks of gestation (Note: full term is defined as 37 to 42 weeks gestation; early preterm: less than 32 weeks gestation; late preterm: between 33-36 weeks gestation)
Approximately 25% of all preterm births are attributed to medical reasons while the remaining 75% are due to spontaneous preterm labor or premature preterm rupture of membranes.
Maternal medical conditions that may lead to preterm labor include:
• Pregestational diabetes
• Chronic hypertension
• Cardiac disease
• Renal disease
• Autoimmune disorders
Other specific pregnancy complications that may lead to preterm labor include:
• Premature rupture of membranes
• RH disease
• Congenital malformations
• Intrauterine growth restriction
• Cervical incompetence
• Poor nutrition
Other factors that may contribute include:
• Age (younger than 16 or older than 35)
• Lack of prenatal care
• Low socioeconomic status
• Use of drugs such as tobacco, cocaine, or amphetamines
The main indicator of a preterm birth is the onset of labor accompanied with cervical dilation at any time less than 36 weeks gestation.
The main concern when it comes to preterm birth is the underdevelopment of the infant. These premature infants have a significantly increased risk of mortality and morbidity when compared with full term infants.
Preterm infants are at major risk of complications such as:
• Respiratory distress
• Temperature instability
• Poor feeding habits
• Underdevelopment of the fetal brain
Once premature labor begins it cannot be stopped. The expecting mother is admitted to a hospital immediately and is closely monitored as is the premature infant.
See also Preterm Birth in Pregnant Teens