World Prematurity Day is a global movement to raise awareness of premature birth. The aim is to raise awareness of the potential devastating impact premature birth can have on families and raise funding to continue research into what causes premature delivery. Currently, the cause of premature birth in most cases is unknown.
Normal labour usually occurs between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy, and is evidenced by regular contractions leading to the opening up of the cervix (neck of the womb). Premature labour is when this occurs before the 37 week mark.
Statistics from the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists show that, in the UK, eight in 100 babies are born before 37 weeks. Very premature birth is much less common, with fewer than one in 100 babies being born at between 22 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.
If a baby is likely to be delivered early, hospitals have specialist facilities known as “neonatal units” for dealing with this eventuality. About 25% of babies born prematurely are delivered early by the team looking after them due to concerns about the health of the mother and/or baby. This is usually done by inducing labour or by having a caesarean section. However, most babies are born early because labour starts naturally sooner than it should. The NHS recommends that if you have any reason to think that your labour may be starting early, you should contact your hospital straight away.
Premature babies have an increased risk of health problems, particularly with breathing, feeding and infection. The likely outcome will depend upon how premature the baby is, with babies born after 28 weeks having a better prognosis. If you are thought to be in premature labour the maternity unit will take steps to minimise the risks of complications by means of medications such as steroids, antibiotics and magnesium sulphate.
It is to be hoped that movements such as World Prematurity Day will lead to improvements in research and treatment which will help to prevent premature births and lead to better outcomes for premature babies in future.
Premature birth is the biggest killer of babies in the UK. Tragically, around 1,200 babies die here each year after being born too soon. Many others who survive a very early birth develop lifelong problems such as cerebral palsy, blindness and learning difficulties