It is not unusual for babies to be born early, although if you are not expecting your baby to put in an early appearance it can come as quite a shock. Around one in every 13 babies arrives prematurely, that is they are born before the 37th week of pregnancy. There are many reasons why you might go into premature labour and these include:
• A multiple pregnancy (having twins, triplets or more; twins are born - on average - at 37 weeks while triplets tend to be born at around 33 weeks).
• Waters breaking early.
• Weakness of the cervix.
• Abnormalities of the uterus.
Should you go into labour before the 35th week of pregnancy your doctor will give you medication in an attempt to stop the contractions and delay labour, as well as steroid injections to help strengthen your baby’s lungs so that they are able to breathe easier once born. Most babies born after the 32nd week of pregnancy have an excellent chance of surviving and being as healthy as a full term baby. Sadly, babies born before 24 weeks do not have such good chances of surviving but with constant medical progression there is always hope.
If your pregnancy is going well and you are fit and healthy, it is unlikely that you will go into premature labour. Drinking, smoking and taking drugs can all cause problems that can lead to you having a premature birth. If in the past you have already had one premature birth then the hospital may wish to keep a close eye on the growth of your baby and give you a scan every two weeks to see how the baby is doing and detect any potential problems that may lead to a premature birth.
Sometimes, your doctor may decide that it is necessary medically for your baby to be born early. For example:
• If your baby is not growing properly inside your uterus.
• Your baby has an abnormality.
• You have a medical condition which would put you at risk giving birth naturally.
• You have had a trauma of some kind to your abdomen.
If your waters should break and contractions start before 37 weeks you must call your midwife or delivery suite immediately. You will probably be told to go in so that the midwife can examine you and see if labour has started. If it has and you are 37 weeks or beyond your labour will most likely be left to continue at its own pace and speed. If you are fewer than 37 weeks along you will still be admitted to hospital and you will have to remain there until either your baby is born naturally or labour is induced, due to risk of infection.
If you should have a premature birth you may be curious as to discover why this happened. In some cases the doctors may be able to detect the possible causes as to why your baby came early, but in most cases the reason will remain undetected.
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