Premature Births – Causes and Preventive Measures

Infant mortality rate

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Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” However, the most special day in the life of parents can soon turn into a nightmare, if the birth is premature. A total of 15 million babies are born every year, out of which more than one in 10 births are born too early, according to the just released report ‘Born Too Soon: The Global Action Report on Preterm Birth’.

“All newborns are vulnerable, but preterm babies are acutely so,” says UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who wrote the foreword to the report and considers the effort to reduce preterm births and deaths, an integral part of his global strategy for women’s and children’s health. More than one million of those babies die shortly after birth; countless others suffer certain types of lifelong physical, neurological, or educational disabilities, often at great cost to families and the society. More about this can be read here.

“Being born too soon is an unrecognized killer,” says Joy Lawn, M.D., PhD, co-editor of the report and Director, Global Evidence and Policy for Save the Children. “Preterm births account for almost half of all newborn deaths worldwide, and are now the second leading cause of death in children under 5, after pneumonia.”

Some of the reasons for premature birth are as follows:

  • Carrying more than one baby (twins, triplets, or more).
  • Problems with the uterus or cervix.
  • Chronic health problems in the mother, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and clotting disorders.
  • Certain infections during pregnancy.
  • Cigarette smoking, alcohol use, or illicit drug use during pregnancy.

Multiple pregnancies

Due to an increase in infertility treatments, multiple pregnancies are becoming common. However, multiple pregnancies also mean increased risk to mother’s health, which results in premature births.

Problems with uterus or cervix

The cervix maybe naturally weak, or may have become weak due to previous pregnancies, childbirth or any obstetric trauma. This may result in early dilation of the cervix, or contractions, which then leads to either miscarriage or premature births.

Cigarette smoking or alcohol and drug abuse

Even under normal circumstances, tobacco and alcohol abuse lead to a multitude of health risks, which increases manifold during pregnancy, thereby risking the life of the unborn child.


Infection is a frequent cause of premature births. Intrauterine infections causes as many as 40 percent of preterm births.

Chronic health problems

Certain ailments like high blood pressure and even diabetes, which maybe be a consequence of pregnancy itself, increase the risk of premature birth.

More about this can be read in this article.

Other possible causes can be

  • Intellectual disabilities.
  • Cerebral palsy.
  • Breathing and respiratory problems.
  • Visual problems including retinopathy of prematurity.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Feeding and digestive problems.

Preventive Measures

Premature births can be prevented, with a few precautions. Some of the basic ones are listed below:

  • Quit smoking and avoid alcohol or drugs.
  • Consult your health care provider for a medical checkup before pregnancy.
  • Get prenatal care as soon as you think you may be pregnant, and continue throughout your pregnancy, and also discuss how to best control diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • It is important to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily before and during early pregnancy.
  • Be aware and consider immediate medical attention upon encountering any warning signs or symptoms of preterm labor.
  • Use 17 alpha hydroxyprogesterone caproate (17P) if you have had a previous preterm birth.
  • Breastfeeding- Breast milk is the best food for babies, whether they are born early or at term.

More information on possible steps on prevention of premature births can be found on this page. The best way to curb this problem is creating awareness and following the preventive measures mentioned above.

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