Late Preterm Birth: What You Need to Know

Having your baby 3 to 6 weeks early may have a few health risks for you and your child. But you can take steps to help your infant stay healthy and grow normally after an early birth.

A late preterm birth happens between 34 and almost 37 weeks of pregnancy. A full-term pregnancy usually lasts about 40 weeks. About 8% of all births in the U.S. are late preterm.

Babies grow about a half-pound each week during the last 6 weeks of pregnancy. During this time, your little one is still developing. 

But there are reasons you and your doctor may decide to deliver your child early.

  • You have high blood pressure, diabetes, or preeclampsia, a serious form of high blood pressure during pregnancy
  • Twins
  • Your baby or twins don’t have enough room in the uterus to grow further
  • Your placenta is blocking the birth canal opening (placenta previa)
  • You've had previous C-section deliveries
  • Your water breaks early

In other cases, some things can make a woman more likely to have a premature baby:

  • Being in your teens, or age 40 and over
  • Smoking
  • Using alcohol or drugs
  • Depression or lots of stress
  • Being a victim of domestic violence

 

 

How Might It Affect My Baby?

Your late preterm newborn is at risk for some health issues. Once you're both home from the hospital, watch for signs that you may need to call your doctor’s office or take your infant to the emergency room.

Nursing. Your little one may eat slowly and not be able to take in as much milk or formula as a full-term baby. You’ll feed him more often, about every 3 or 4 hours. If he refuses to eat, call your doctor or nurse. If your baby has a hard time learning to breastfeed, ask for help from your nurse, doctor, or a lactation consultant.

Sleeping. Your baby may be sleepier than full-term infants. He may even sleep through feedings. Wake your baby when it’s time to eat. Place your baby on his back to sleep.

Breathing. Call your doctor or 911 if you notice he's having a hard time breathing.

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Body temperature. Late preterm babies don’t have as much body fat to keep their temperature normal. Keep your infant away from cold drafts. Keep his room warm and cozy. In winter, dress him in layers to keep him warm.

Jaundice. If your baby’s skin or eyes are yellow, or he has trouble eating, it may be a sign of this condition. It means his liver can’t clear his blood of a substance called bilirubin. Make sure he’s checked for jaundice before you leave the hospital, and call your doctor if you notice any symptoms. This can lead to brain damage if not treated early.

Infections. Late preterm babies don’t have a fully developed immune system. That puts them at higher risk for infections. Watch for symptoms of illness like high fever or breathing problems. Call your doctor if you think your child needs treatment for an infection.

What Challenges Might the Future Hold?

Every infant develops at a different pace, but yours may hit certain milestones later than full-term babies. He may be slower to roll onto his back, speak, or grasp and hold objects with his hands. By age 2, he should catch up. If not, he may need some extra support or therapy.

Late preterm children may be more likely to have health issues like asthma or cerebral palsy as they grow up. They may develop some skills more slowly and have a hard time paying attention at home or in school. Some struggle to master things like holding a pencil or brushing their teeth.

Other kids have behavior issues later on. Some have emotional outbursts, and others can be hyperactive. They may have learning or reading problems in school. If your child eventually faces these challenges, ask his school or teachers about special educational programs or tutoring.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on July 15, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2013.

Loftin, R. Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Winter 2010.

MayoClinic.org

Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses. “What Parents of Late Pre-term (Near-Term) Infants Need to Know.”

Child Trends Databank. “Preterm Births.”

American Academy of Pediatrics. “Preemie Milestones.”

 

© 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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