Premature births: What you should know about preterm babies – explainer

Science and Health

How should you handle a premature birth? What steps need to be taken?

November 17 marks World Prematurity Day. As such, The Israel Midwives’ Association has put together some facts you need to know.

Premature births are defined as a baby born before the 37th week of pregnancy. By contrast, normal birth is usually around the 40th week.

Premature births also happen at a rate of around one in every 10 births worldwide. Each year, that results in 15 million babies born prematurely.

In Israel, the numbers are slightly different, with only one in 14 births being premature.

Premature birth (credit: REUTERS)

How do premature births happen?

There are a number of different reasons why a premature birth could happen, and only a few of them are actually known. Factors that are known to raise chances for a premature birth include, but are not limited to:

  • Having had a premature birth in the past
  • Having abnormalities in the cervix
  • High blood pressure
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use
  • Drug use
  • Underweight during pregnancy
  • Overweight during pregnancy

What are the problems with premature birth?

There can be a number of issues relating to a premature birth and they have a higher risk of death, which is why it is essential for these newborns to stay in the hospital to receive special care that can last weeks or even months. 

This special care can mean delaying severing the umbilical cord, injections to help the lungs grow properly and other forms of incubation.

Babies born even more prematurely, meaning before 28 weeks, are at risk of even more severe complications. However, babies born after 34 weeks will be much more stable. In some cases, the baby may be in stable enough condition for parents to have skin-to-skin contact with the newborn, which can actually help them.

What is important to note, however, is that the earlier the premature birth is, the longer the hospitalization will likely be. But regardless, the parents will be in need of emotional and physical support, as the challenges that lie ahead for them can be challenging.

Support in these situations often has been provided by midwives, such as in Israel, where they help thousands of women with childbirth.

And considering Israel has a high fertility rate with around 180,000 births per year, the service midwives provide is of great importance.