Preterm Birth – Short and Long Term Complications

    A premature birth takes place more than three weeks before the baby is in due. In other words, a premature birth is one that occurs before the start of the 37th week of pregnancy. Normally, a pregnancy usually lasts about 40 weeks. Premature birth gives the baby very less time to develop in the womb. Premature babies, especially those born earliest, often have complex medical problems. Depending on how early a baby is born, he or she may be:
    • Late preterm, born between 34 and 36 weeks of pregnancy
    • Moderately preterm, born between 32 and 34 weeks of pregnancy
    • Very preterm, born at less than 32 weeks of pregnancy
    • Extremely preterm, born at or before 25 weeks of pregnancy


    A premature birth means that the baby has not had the usual amount of time to develop in the womb before needing to adapt to life outside the womb.
    The signs that a baby’s gestation has been cut short include:
    • Small size, with a disproportionately large head
    • Sharper looking, less rounded features will appear than a full-term baby’s features, due to lack of fat stores
    • Fine hair (lanugo) covering much of the body
    • Low body temperature, especially immediately after birth in the delivery room, due to the lack of stored body fat
    • Labored breathing or respiratory distress
    • Lack of reflexes for sucking and swallowing, which leads to feeding difficulties
    Premature babies can quickly develop serious complications, such as infection in the bloodstream (sepsis) and respiratory distress syndrome.

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    Risk Factors:

    Often, the specific cause of premature birth isn’t clear. Many factors can increase the risk of premature birth, however, they are as follows:

    • Having a previous premature birth delivery
    • Pregnancy with twins, triplets or other multiple births
    • An interval of less than six months between pregnancies
    • Conceiving through in vitro fertilization
    • Problems with the uterus, cervix or placenta
    • Smoking cigarettes or using illicit drugs
    • Poor nutrition
    • Not gaining enough weight during pregnancy
    • Some infections, particularly of the amniotic fluid and lower genital tract
    • Some chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes
    • Being underweight or overweight before pregnancy
    • Stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one or domestic violence
    • History of multiple miscarriages or abortions
    • Physical injury or trauma


    Although not all premature babies experience these complications, being born too early can cause short-term and long-term health problems for preemies. Generally, if the baby was born earlier, there will be higher risk of complications. Birth weight plays an important role, too.

    Some of the problems may be apparent at the time of birth, while the others may not develop until much later.

    Short-Term Complications:

    In the first few weeks, the complications of premature birth may include:

    • Breathing problems
    • Heart problems
    • Brain problems
    • Temperature control problems
    • Gastrointestinal problems
    • Blood problems
    • Metabolism problems
    • Immune system related problems

    Long-Term Complications

    In the long term, premature birth can leads to following complications:

    • Cerebral palsy
    • Impaired cognitive skills
    • Vision problems
    • Hearing problems
    • Dental problems
    • Behavioral and psychological problems
    • Chronic health issues