What happens when you give birth prematurely?

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In Singapore, the proportion of premature babies that have been born has risen from 7.2% to 9.5%. According to Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, this could be because couples are choosing to have babies later, and because they’re increasingly turning to assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF. 

What happens when you give birth prematurely? How can you nurse a premature baby back to health? Read on to find out more!

What is a premature birth?

A premature birth refers to a birth that happens before the 37th week of pregnancy. Babies who are born prematurely are typically admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit, because their key organs have not yet fully developed. 

Premature babies tend to be smaller-sized with disproportionately large heads, and they may have less “rounded” features due to a lack of fat stores. On top of that, these babies may also experience difficulties in breathing, and find it hard to suck and swallow during feeding.

What causes premature births?

While scientists can’t pin down specific causes of premature births, there are various risk factors that are associated with these births. For instance, women who are carrying twins or triplets have a higher chance of giving birth prematurely, and the same goes for women who undergo multiple pregnancies with less than six months break in between. Those who conceive via IVF or are underweight or overweight before their pregnancy may also give birth prematurely. 

What happens when you give birth prematurely?

If you give birth to a premature baby, your baby will likely be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit. The amount of time that babies need to spend here varies, so you’ll have to reach out to the doctor for updates. Once you’re given the go-ahead to bring your baby home, try to start breastfeeding your baby. According to experts, breast milk improves the growth and brain development of babies; it also contains the highest concentration of antibodies needed to fight complications that may arise from premature births.

Are there any ways of reducing your chances of giving birth prematurely?

Other than taking care of yourself during your pregnancy, there aren’t any concrete methods that you can employ to reduce your chances of giving birth prematurely. That said, there are many researchers who are looking into premature births (the official term being preterm births), and we’re hoping that we’ll soon have tests and tools that can help us predict premature births.

For instance, Professor Craig Pennell, Chair of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, School of Medicine and Public Health, Faculty of Health and Medicine and Professor Maternal Fetal Medicine at the University of Newcastle, is currently working on the International Preterm Birth Genome Project (PGP). By identifying genetic variants associated with early preterm birth, the project seeks to advance our knowledge about the genetic basis of preterm birth and assist in providing customised clinical care to those at highest risk.

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