Are you worried about a potential premature birth?
Premature babies aren't uncommon. Most hospitals are prepared to handle babies that are born preterm, but that doesn't mean that you aren't allowed to have concerns.
A premature baby is a baby that doesn't make it to 37 weeks of gestation. For each week that it misses, more complications can arise. There are several potential causes of premature birth, but they aren't all preventable.
Having a premature baby will add complications to your birth and the first few weeks (if not years) of your child's life.
We're here to talk about the ins and outs of premature birth so you can prepare yourself for the possibility.
What Are Some Ways to Avoid Premature Birth?
There are situations in which a premature birth has nothing to do with the parent. Preterm birth isn't ideal, but parents shouldn't blame themselves (even if they did unknowingly trigger it).
There are several things that can trigger preterm labour. Many of them will be unknown to the parent until labour is triggered.
Some triggers or risk factors include:
- High blood pressure,
- A previous premature birth
- A pregnancy with multiple babies
- Problems with the uterus, cervix, or placenta
- In-vitro fertilization
- Being overweight or underweight
- Extreme stress
- Fewer than six months between pregnancies
- Certain infections
There are, however, several things that you can do to help prevent premature birth for your baby.
See Your Doctor Early in Pregnancy
People who are pregnant should make routine trips to the doctor's office, even if they've decided to give birth with a doula or midwife outside of a hospital. Pregnancy is safe overall, but going to a doctor will give you peace of mind.
It's best to go to a doctor while you're trying to conceive. They can help you with any supplements or lifestyle changes that may help you get pregnant.
If you weren't trying to conceive and you're continuing your pregnancy, go to a doctor as soon as you know that you're pregnant. They can give you a full physical exam and create a treatment and checkup schedule for you.
This is also a great time to ask about any underlying health conditions and whether or not they may impact your pregnancy.
Have Your Doctor Review Current Prescription Medications
While you're at your doctor's office, don't be afraid to ask your doctor about your current prescription medications (if you take them). You may also want to ask about over-the-counter medications and supplements as some of them may not be ideal for pregnancy.
Even common over-the-counter medications, like Pepto Bismol and cold medicine, can be harmful to the fetus.
While some medications may not increase the risk of premature birth, they can still increase the risk of birth defects. Many people who take prescription medications need them in order to function. If this is the case for you, consider more frequent doctor's visits or asking about substitutions.
Avoid Harmful Substances (Like Smoking, Drinking, or Illegal Drugs)
While prescription medications can be harmful to your fetus, you also need to avoid anything that's obviously harmful.
Drinking, smoking, and taking illicit drugs during pregnancy may harm your baby. even if they don't cause preterm birth, they can cause serious birth defects and problems that can impact the baby for a lifetime.
Fetal alcohol syndrome, for example, is the result of the parent drinking during pregnancy.
Similar to prescription medications, some parents may get the go-ahead for using certain substances while doctors monitor them. This is sometimes the case with parents who are coming off of drug addictions or who use marijuana for medicinal use.
Before continuing to use harmful substances, talk to your doctor.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating well is great for you and great for your baby.
It's normal to have pesky pregnancy cravings, and you don't have to deprive yourself of all of the sweet and salty snacks that your body is yearning for. That said, you should do your best to eat a healthy diet when you're not giving into cravings.
You should avoid lunch meats, unpasteurized dairy products, raw meats, and smoked seafood. If you're unsure whether or not food is appropriate for your pregnancy, talk to your doctor.
The average pregnant person needs between 350 and 450 extra calories per day. Remember, you're forming a whole new person!
Focus on eating a lot of vegetables, fruits, and proteins. You should also eat plenty of grains and fortified foods.
Consider Taking Supplements
Speaking of fortified foods, most pregnant people need to take supplements to get all of the nutrition that they need. This is extra important if you're on a limited diet.
While you should run all potential supplements by your doctor, you're going to want to focus on a few special ones. Prenatal vitamins, for example, are a great choice for all-around health for someone who is pregnant or wants to become pregnant.
You want to make sure that you supplement your diet with folate. Folate can help prevent miscarriage and neural tube defects (like spina bifida).
Because the neural tube forms early in pregnancy, it's important to start taking supplements as soon as you think that you might be pregnant. Supplementing your diet won't hurt you.
Do Premature Babies Need Special Care?
In a perfect world, all babies would be born between 37 and 40 weeks. They're ready to come into the world at that point.
Every week before that makes their life harder. Late preterm babies that are born between 34 and 36 weeks may need a short period of extra care or an extended hospital stay. These babies have a good prognosis.
Between 32 and 34 weeks, babies are moderately preterm. These babies will need more care and a longer hospital stay.
When a baby is very preterm, it means it was born before 32 weeks. This is high-risk labour and the baby will need to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time. Before 25 weeks, preterm babies are often not viable (though it is possible for them to survive.
To go home, babies have to be able to breathe on their own, eat with their mouths, pass several wellness tests, and maintain a stable temperature. Their parents also need to know how to give them adequate care. When it comes to premature babies, special care varies.
While breastmilk is enough for all babies, you may have trouble nursing (or choose not to nurse). Talk to your doctor about appropriate formula for premature babies.
Also keep in mind that you'll need special clothing, diapers, and car seats for your baby's small size.
What Health Problems Can Premature Babies Have?
When a baby is born premature, it means that it hasn't finished developing. Every week of a baby's time in the womb is crucial because babies pass certain milestones.
Depending on how far along your baby was, they may experience:
- Underdeveloped eyes
- Underdeveloped liver
- Underdeveloped heart or heart problems
- An underdeveloped immune system
Babies may be born with respiratory problems, hypotension, bleeding in the brain, low metabolism, and more.
Most of these health problems of premature babies are short-term. Keeping your baby in the hospital with skilled medical staff will help prevent future complications. The more developed a baby is, the fewer problems it should have.
Will Premature Babies Have Problems Later in Life?
Some babies that are born prematurely won't have any problems in the future. Many of them grow big and strong with no indications that there were complications around their birth.
That said, this isn't true for all premature babies.
One of the most common results of premature birth is small stature throughout life. Children who experienced premature births may be lighter, weaker, or shorter (though these things aren't often significant enough to be noticeable).
Children who were born before their due dates may have trouble with learning. They may have developmental delays that hinder their behaviour, mental health, and ability to pick up new information and reach milestones.
Keep in mind that while your baby arrived early, you may want to track milestones from the scheduled due date.
People who were the result of premature births may be at a greater risk of developing cerebral palsy and chronic health issues. Infants may also be at risk of sudden infant death syndrome (or SIDS).
Children may experience poor vision, poor hearing, and even some dental issues.
Most of the time, premature birth won't impact premature babies later in life if they went through the majority of their gestational period. That said, it doesn't hurt to have frequent pediatrician visits.
Preterm Birth Is a Serious Issue
You should never blame yourself if you have a premature baby. That said, there are several things that you can do to prevent it and a few ways to handle it in the event that it happens.
With luck, adequate care, and time, most premature babies are able to recover and live full and healthy lives.
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