Let tomorrow worry about itself, today has enough worries of its own – and so, worrying about whether your baby is healthy today is enough to make you worried. This is especially so if you’re at risk of giving birth before the pregnancy reaches term (Week 37). There are risks of complications arising when the baby is born prematurely. What exactly is preterm labor and what could be possible aftereffects of having your baby born prematurely?
What is preterm labor?
A baby born anytime before 37 completed weeks of gestation is a premature baby, and the pregnancy is termed as a preterm birth. Before a preterm birth occurs, the mom will see signs of a preterm labor.
What are the reasons why some moms go into labor before the pregnancy reaches term? Although there are no specific reasons that a preterm birth takes place, the suggested causes are chorioamnionitis (CAM), gestational hypertension or preeclampsia, long working hours, underweight (BMI), or smoking – these are said to increase the risk of preterm labor and a preterm birth.
Preterm labor: Risks to the baby
There is a simple reason why it’s always good to prolong a pregnancy until it reaches 37 weeks at least. This is because the fetus needs the time to develop properly, and they might be exposed to more dangers and complications should they be delivered any sooner than that.
When a preterm birth takes place, the baby has had lesser time to grow in the uterus, so it’s no surprise that they’re more prone to illnesses or are at a higher risk of being born with congenital anomalies, poor organ function or poor development. The earlier the baby is born, the higher the risks. But before the preterm birth takes place, preterm labor comes first – preterm labor indicates that a preterm birth is going to occur soon.
Preterm labor: Week 23 to end of Week 28
The fetus’ eyes start forming from around Week 23 and is completely formed sometime around Week 28. If the baby is delivered before Week 28, the retina is not yet completely formed. The baby will be at a higher risk of Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) – abnormal growth of the retinal blood vessels – and might be at risk of losing their vision. Also, as the brain has yet to develop completely, the baby will also be at risk of developing cerebral palsy.
Preterm labor: Week 29 to end of Week 36
Once pregnancy reaches Week 29, most of the vital organs are almost all completely formed. So, even if the baby is delivered from Week 29 onward, there are fewer risks and possible complications that can arise. The lungs are the slowest in terms of their development, and will only be complete sometime around Week 35. If the baby is delivered before their lungs are fully functional, then there is a need for a ventilator to help the baby breathe.
A baby born after Week 35 is not very different from a full term baby as almost all of their organs are fully functional. However, a newborn infant would be admitted into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) so their condition can be monitored until the worst is over and your baby is stronger and can do without the help of the ventilator.
What kind of risks does a low birth weight baby face?
The weight of the baby and the number of pregnancy weeks have a positive correlation: the baby’s weight increases and the number of weeks increases.
If the baby is a preterm baby that weighs in at 4 lb 4 oz (2,000 g) or more, then there usually aren’t any problems, but when the preterm baby is 3 lb 3 oz (1,500 g) or lighter, then this could mean that the baby is at an increased risk of developing complications or having development delay. This could lead to birth asphyxia (not having enough oxygen), respiratory distress, or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in the following days after birth.
In the few weeks after birth, the baby might also develop health conditions like chronic lung disease, asphyxia, anemia, or jaundice. The baby might have a weak immunity system and so be more vulnerable to infectious diseases.
Risk Factors for Preterm Labor: How about the mother?
You never know what could happen during the course of your pregnancy, and so it’s advisable that you have a contingency plan to get you to the right hospital if you go into preterm labor and are about to have a preterm birth. You might want to inquire at the hospitals near your workplace, home or your favorite haunts, and check if they’re able to accept you should an emergency arise.
If a placental abruption occurs because of preterm labor, it might be accompanied by heavy bleeding, hemorrhage, or even amniotic fluid embolism (fluid enters the mother’s bloodstream), among many other complications. In the worst-case scenario, an immediate delivery via a cesarean section could take place.
Prepare for a preterm labor even though you don’t know what the future holds
A preterm birth carries considerable risks to the mother and baby. As an expecting mother, you must first take care of your own body in order to be able to provide the best for your baby and to reduce the risks of your baby being born with defects.
Visit your practitioner without fail each time you have an appointment. That will reduce the risks to both you and your baby, and if you land into the situation whereby you have to be hospitalized over the risk of a preterm labor, don’t lose heart, and continue to fight for your baby!