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Premature babies
InAustralia,aroundeightpercentofbabiesarebornprematurely(before37weeksgestation) everyyear.Mostbabieswhoareprematurearebornbetween32and36weeksgestation,and almostallofthesebabiesgrowuptobehealthychildren. Sadly,somebabiesdieasaresultofbeingborntooearlybecausetheirorgansaretooimmature tofunctionproperlyoutsidethewomb. Itisdifficulttopredictwhichpregnancieswillendprematurely.Mostoften,nospecificcauseis foundforprematurebirths.Weknowofafewriskfactors,butthemechanicsbehindpremature labourremainamystery,soitisdifficulttoprevent.

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Risk factors for premature birth


Somereasonsforprematurebirthremainunknown.However,thereareafewmaternalrisk factors,including: Highbloodpressure Diabetes Severeillness Smoking Twinormultiplepregnancy Previousprematurebirth.

Delaying premature labour


Ifamothergoesintolabourprematurely,sometimesthebirthcanbedelayedwithcertain treatments. Aslongasthebabyisgrowingnormallyandtheplacentaisworkingproperly,everyextradaya babycanspendinsidethemotherswombincreasesthechanceofsurvival,particularlyifthereis timetogivethemothersteroids.Givingthemothersteroidinjectionsbeforethebirthcanimprove thebabyslungmaturityandchancesofsurviving.

The chance of survival for premature babies


Thechanceofsurvivaldependsonthebabysdegreeofprematurityandbirthweight.Afull-term pregnancyissaidtolastbetween37and42weeks. Twothirdsofbabiesbornat24weeksgestationwhoareadmittedtoaneonatalintensivecareunit (NICU)willsurvivetogohome.Ninetyeightpercentofbabiesbornat30weeksgestationwill survive.

Complications for premature babies


Ingeneral,babieswhoarebornunder36weeksgestationwillbeadmittedtoaneonatalunit. Verypretermbabies(under30weeksgestation)andthosewhorequirehelpwithbreathingwill needtobecaredforinaNICU. Largerpretermbabieswhodonotdevelopbreathingproblemswillbecaredforinaspecialcare nursery. Someofthecomplicationsforaprematurebabymightinclude:

Prematurebabies

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Lungdiseaseprematurebabiesoftenneedoxygenviaaventilatororinanincubatoruntil theirlungsarefullymatured. Feedingdifficultiesprematurebabiesareoftenunabletosuckandneedtobefedviaa tubeintothestomachuntilthesuckingandswallowingreflexisdeveloped. Temperaturecontroldifficultiesthetemperaturecontrolcentreinaprematurebabys brainisimmature.Babiesarethereforecaredforunderspecialoverheadheatersorin enclosedincubatorsuntiltheyarematureenoughtobecaredforinanormalcot. Apnoeathisiswhenthebabysbreathingstopsforashortperiodoftime.Breathingis controlledbyapartofthebraincalledtherespiratorycentre,whichisimmaturein prematurebabies. Bradycardiaisaslowingdownoftheheartrate,usuallycausedbyapnoea. Jaundicetheskintakesonayellowcolour,duetoacompoundinthebloodcalled bilirubin,whichbreaksdownredbloodcells.Aprematurebabysliveristooimmatureto processthebilirubinproperly,sophototherapylightsareused.

Disabilities for premature babies


Ingeneral,theriskofprematurebabieshavingseveredisabilitiesdependsontheirdegreeof prematurityandtheseverityofillnesstheyexperiencedfollowingbirth. Aroundonethirdofbabiesbornat24weekswilldevelopasignificantdisabilitysuchasintellectual disability,cerebralpalsy,blindnessordeafness. Minordisabilities,suchasreadingorlearningproblems,usuallydonotshowupuntilschoolage. Babiesbornclosetofulltermusuallyhavenolong-termhealthproblemsasaresultoftheirearly birth.

Where to get help


Yourdoctor Yourobstetrician Maternityhospitalstaff

Things to remember

Thecausesofprematurelabourarentfullyunderstood,sopredictionandpreventionare difficult. Thechancesofsurvivalforprematurebabiesdependonthedegreeofprematurityand theirbirthweight. Prematurebabieswhosurviveareatriskofarangeofmildtoseveredisabilities,including visualimpairment,developmentaldelayandlearningdifficulties.

This page has been produced in consultation with, and approved by:

RoyalWomen'sHospital
Contentonthiswebsiteisprovidedforeducationandinformationpurposesonly.Information aboutatherapy,service,productortreatmentdoesnotimplyendorsementandisnotintendedto replaceadvicefromyourdoctororotherregisteredhealthprofessional.Contenthasbeen preparedforVictorianresidentsandwiderAustralianaudiences,andwasaccurateatthetimeof publication.Readersshouldnotethat,overtime,currencyandcompletenessoftheinformation maychange.Allusersareurgedtoalwaysseekadvicefromaregisteredhealthcareprofessional fordiagnosisandanswerstotheirmedicalquestions. Forthelatestupdatesandmoreinformation,visitwww.betterhealth.vic.gov.au Copyight 1999/2013StateofVictoria.ReproducedfromtheBetterHealthChannel (www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au)atnocostwithpermissionoftheVictorianMinisterforHealth. Unauthorisedreproductionandotherusescomprisedinthecopyrightareprohibitedwithout permission.

Prematurebabies

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Prematurebabies

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