Premature birth, also known as pre-term labor, occurs when the body starts preparing for birth too early on during pregnancy. As a typical pregnancy lasts for 40 weeks, uterine contractions that occur before the 37th week are considered premature. The more premature a baby is, the lesser its chances of survival and the greater the chances of the child experiencing problems after birth. According to Healthline, babies born before 25 weeks have a very high risk of long term problems including neurological problems and learning disabilities.
Although, medical treatments exist that enable pregnancy to be prolonged (even if the woman has experienced premature contractions) to avoid putting themselves or their child at risk, all women should be aware of these common (and often avoidable) causes of premature birth.
Research has shown that severe emotional or physical stress can lead to the release of hormones that can cause labor contractions. It also increases the risk of low-weight births (babies that weigh less than 5.5 pounds). Women who stand for long periods (more than five hours a day) or have occupations that are physically and emotionally demanding are more likely to deliver early. Stress during pregnancy is caused partially by changing hormones and physical discomfort of the pregnancy itself. Pregnant women should therefore try to eliminate external sources of stress from their lives and reduce the effects of stress with mild exercise and sufficient sleep.
2. History of Premature Birth or Abortion
The likelihood of a woman delivering a premature baby is directly related to the number of previous premature births she has had and how early they occurred. The more babies a woman has delivered at full term, the less likely it is that her subsequent delivery will be premature. Women who have had abortions in the past also display a higher tendency for premature births. Though the science behind this is not yet confirmed, it is believed that abortions may lead to cervical damage which makes it more likely that the cervix will abnormally open early during subsequent pregnancies.
3. Multiple Gestations
Multiples (twins, triplets, quadruplets etc.) cause the uterus to stretch more, which increases the risk of early contraction and thus premature birth. The uterus may be stretched to such an extent that it begins to contract before the fetuses have fully developed. Infertility treatment as well as artificial insemination techniques significantly increase the chances of multiple gestations.
4. Age of Pregnancy
Women below the age of seventeen and above the age of thirty-five have a much higher risk of premature delivery.
The presence of a bacterial or viral infection anywhere along a woman’s urinary or reproductive tract (especially sexually transmitted diseases) can increase the risk of early labor and delivery. Some premature birth inducing infections can also occur in the bloodstream. Common examples of such infections include gonorrhea, chlamydia and bacterial vaginosis.
6. Short Interval between Pregnancies
Waiting less than a year between successive pregnancies almost doubles the chances of premature delivery. Women should wait for at least 18 months after giving birth before conceiving again.
7. Gum Infections
Pregnancy hormones make expecting mothers more susceptible to periodontal diseases. Periodontitis is a destructive inflammatory disease of the gums and is caused by specific microorganisms. The bacteria that infect the gums travel throughout the body and reach the fetus, via the mother’s bloodstream. This can account for some of the inflammatory processes associated with premature birth and low birth weight. NCBI recommends that pregnant women expand preventative measures and improve their oral hygiene practices.
8. Smoking Before or During Pregnancy
Smoking during pregnancy is known to cause a host of problems including low birth weight, premature birth, certain birth defects and infant death—mostly as a result of decreased oxygen availability for the baby. An NCBI research study conducted in 2005 concluded ‘smoking increases the risk of very preterm birth caused by preterm labor (including idiopathic preterm labor), preterm premature rupture of membranes, and late pregnancy bleedings’.
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