What causes Premature Birth?

(May 6, 2010)

The gestation period for a baby is usually 37 to 38 weeks. Any baby born before that is termed a premature birth. It is also referred to as preterm labor. This means that the birthing process starts on its own, and is not induced. Premature babies are often at risk because their physical formation inside the womb is still not complete. They may also have not reached their full birth weight. These factors make them vulnerable to various health problems after birth.

Doctors are still not sure about the exact causes of premature births, but cite some conditions where a pregnant mother could be at risk.

One of the most common causes of premature labor is premature rupture of membranes or PROM. The baby and the amniotic fluid are held in a sac. In PROM, this sac develops a hole or bursts, leading to preterm labor. Fluid leaking down the vagina either in a slow trickle or large gush is a symptom of PROM. PROM can be caused by a vaginal infection, or if there is too much amniotic fluid. Such a case usually happens when a woman is carrying twins or multiple babies. No medicine can stop a PROM, but your doctor may advise you to take tocolytics to prevent or delay labor from starting.

A weakened or incompetent cervix can also cause premature birth. The cervix begins to soften and dilate in late pregnancy, only after contractions begin. But sometimes, a growing baby may push on the cervix. This sends wrong signals that labor is about to begin, and the cervix begins to open. If you have already been diagnosed with a weak cervix, your doctor may perform a cerclage, which means that the cervix will be sewn up in the 14th week of pregnancy.

An abnormally shaped uterus could also put you at risk of premature birth. Similarly over-stretching of the uterus could also lead to preterm labor.

Older women have greater chances of complications during pregnancy and face a higher risk of having a premature delivery.

Another cause of premature birth is preeclampsia. This is a condition brought about by very high blood pressure or ‘gestational hypertension’ in the pregnant mother, especially after the 20th week of pregnancy. The mother’s liver, kidney, brain and placenta may be affected, leading to seizure. Preeclampsia can also lead to stillbirth or maternal death.

Another cause of premature birth could be the incidence of Chlamydia in the pregnant mother. This is a STD (sexually transmitted disease) caused by a bacteria, which can cause damage to a woman’s reproductive organs.

Submitted by P T on May 6, 2010 at 01:15

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