Is this topic for you?
This topic is for people
who want to know what to expect when a baby is born early. For information
about early labor, its causes, and its treatment, see the topic
What is premature birth?
Pregnancy normally lasts
about 40 weeks. A baby born 3 or more weeks early is premature. Babies who are born closer to
their due dates tend to have fewer problems than babies born earlier. But even those who are born late preterm (closer to 37 weeks) are at risk for problems.
Doctors and nurses often
call premature babies "preemies."
premature baby may be stressful and scary. To get through it, you and your
partner must take good care of yourselves and each other. It may help to talk
to a spiritual advisor, counselor, or
social worker. You may be able to find a support group
of other parents who are going through the same thing.
Why is premature birth a problem?
When a baby is born too early, his or her
major organs are not fully formed. This can cause health problems.
- Babies who are born closer to 32 weeks (just over 7 months) may not be
able to eat, breathe, or stay warm on their own. But after these babies have
had time to grow, most of them can leave the hospital.
- Babies born
earlier than 26 weeks (just under 6 months) are the most likely to have serious
problems. If your baby was born very small or sick, you may face hard decisions about treatment.
What causes premature birth?
Premature birth can
be caused by a problem with the
fetus, the mother, or both. Often the cause is never
known. The most common causes include:
- Problems with the
- Pregnancy with twins or more.
- Infection in the mother.
- Problems with the
- Drug or alcohol use during
What kind of treatments might a premature infant need?
Premature babies who are moved to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
are watched closely for infections and changes in breathing and heart rate.
Until they can maintain their body heat, they are kept warm in special beds
They are usually
tube-fed or fed through a vein (intravenously),
depending on their condition. Tube-feeding lasts until a baby is able
to breathe, suck, and swallow and can take all feedings by breast or
Sick and very premature infants need special treatment,
depending on what medical problems they have. Those who need help breathing are
aided by an oxygen tube or a machine, called a ventilator, that moves air in
and out of the lungs. Some babies need medicine. A few need surgery.
Breast milk gives your
baby extra protection from infection. You can pump breast milk and bring it to the hospital for your baby.