Premature babies, 10 things to know

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Premature babies

Over the past twenty years the number of premature babies Is increasing. If in Africa and Asia the causes are often linked to poverty, malnutrition and the lack of correct diagnoses, in developed countries the increase is partly due to the increase in the average age in which pregnancies are faced but, it must be said , also because our diagnoses are more effective thanks to more rigorous checks that allow us to recognize any pathologies in time and therefore to proceed with the provoked premature birth, if necessary.

Premature births on the rise are "the problem of modern obstetrics, the one we work on every day," she told Paolo Cavoretto, gynecologist at the Fetus Health Center of the IRCCS San Raffaele Hospital.

Cavoretto and other subject matter experts replied to 10 most frequently asked questions about premature births.

When do we talk about premature babies?

A birth is defined as premature when it occurs before the 37th week of gestation. The majority of premature births (80%) occur between the 32nd and 37th week.

In this article

  • How many premature births are there every year?
  • What is the survival rate of premature babies?
  • Is the mortality rate related to the weeks of gestation?
  • What can be the causes of premature birth?
  • Can premature birth be prevented?
  • Can diet and lifestyle affect premature birth?
  • Risk of premature birth: is hospitalization always necessary?
  • When are drugs given to delay birth?
  • How to support the mother of a premature baby?
  • What can be the most serious consequences of a premature birth?

How many premature births are there every year?

In the world 15 million are born every year premature babies: a million of them can't make it. In Del Paese, premature births represent about 7% of total births.

What is the survival rate of premature babies?

Fabio Mosca, director of the complex structure of Neonatology and Intensive Care of in our city, claims that:

In Del Paese, the survival rate of premature babies is among the highest in the world. It also exceeds 90% in the case of preterm babies who weigh less than 1500 grams at birth

Is the mortality rate related to the weeks of gestation?

Yes. Each week weighs with a 20% increase in the survival range of the newborn "¸ explains Mosca. This means that if a newborn born at 23 weeks of gestation can only survive in 40% of cases, at 25 weeks its percentage of survival already jumps to 80%. "Every single extra day spent in the mother's womb is important for the baby's health

What can be the causes of premature birth?

Cavoretto explains that the premature birth it can be caused by doctors in the case of chronic pathologies of the mother that would make the pregnancy progress unsafe, such as gestosis, hepatitis or an important and pressure rise. Or it can happen because surgery is needed on pathologies of the fetus, which is unable to feed and grow properly. Premature birth can also be spontaneous and caused by sudden rupture of the amniotic sac, from the short cervix or major uterine inflammation, with pathogens entering the amniotic fluid of the placenta and inflaming the cord and membranes. Some studies also indicate maternal stress as a cause of prematurity.

Read also: Premature babies: 50 exciting testimonies

Can premature birth be prevented?

The latest research has shown that examinations during pregnancy are very important: in particular, ultrasound scans that monitor changes in the uterine cervix and intra-vaginal ultrasound, the only one capable of detecting a possible short cervix, which is one of the most common factors of spontaneous premature birth.

These examinations must be done between 31st and 32nd week. Cavoretto specifies that prevention must concern all women, not only those at risk (because elderly primiparous or for pre-existing diseases)

Can diet and lifestyle affect premature birth?

Recent studies have shown that omega 3 (contained for example in salmon) increase the maturity of the cervix and reduce uterine contractions, favoring the production of progesterone. 

Furthermore, to decrease the probability of an early birth, the usual precautions are valid: a healthy lifestyle (no alcohol and smoking), a correct and balanced diet with ample consumption of fruit and vegetables, emasculating mental stress and physical fatigue (especially weight lifting).

Risk of premature birth: is hospitalization always necessary?

No. As medical studies show, only 10% of diagnosed premature birth syndrome turns into actual preterm delivery within 10 days.

In most cases, absolute bed rest is sufficient to bring the pregnancy to term. Often the cervix is ​​added to the rest, which is useful to contain its shortening: it has been shown that it postpones premature birth.

When are drugs given to delay birth?

In other cases, if the birth is imminent but the doctors deem it appropriate to postpone it for a few weeks, we proceed with hospitalization and a prophylaxis based on steroids and magnesium sulfate, useful to avoid the contraction of the cervix and the respiratory stress of the newborn.

Drugs are also often given to reduce premature uterine contractions, to prolong the pregnancy from 2 to 7 days. Only in case of premature rupture of the membranes, specific antibiotics are also added.

How to support the mother of a premature baby?

"Everything passes through reassurance", explains Caterina Mosé, obstetrician at the Trento hospital. The mother must be accompanied during the critical stages of pregnancy and post-partum, especially if the newborn's hospitalization in intensive care is prolonged.

Mothers often experience premature birth as a sense of failure: it has been shown that therapies in neonatology involving the mother, such as prolonged skin-to-skin contact, the collection of breast milk for nutrition (even if this then happens with the bottle) and the possibility of being able to stay in the ward without time limits favor the well-being of the mother-child relationship

Read also: How to deal with premature birth

The podcast: how to cope with premature birth?

Also listen to the podcast with the answer of the doctor to the question: how to deal with premature birth?

Together with Professor Mario De Curtis he wrote the book "Little babies - Stories of babies in today's country" (The third). Amazing and intense real-life tales that teach us how courageously and lovingly mothers, fathers, doctors and nurses face the challenge of embracing each new life, even in difficult conditions, in a neonatal intensive care unit. In the chapters that make up the book, every single story becomes an opportunity for a medical study and for a reflection on human, social, bioethical and legislative issues.

What can be the most serious consequences of a premature birth?

In fact i risks for the future of the child they mainly concern respiratory diseases (from bronchopulmonary dysplasia to bronchiolitis which will then cause chronic asthma), heart diseases and neurological diseases that can lead to serious psycho-motor delays as well as deafness or retinopathy (fortunately, limited to 10 % of cases of premature babies, usually those with lower gestational age). Moscow explains that:

The first two or three minutes after childbirth are the most important. Quick and expert hands are needed to intervene and, if necessary, intubate the newborns. Obviously, neonatology departments with highly specialized nurses and adequate machinery are needed


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