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What Causes Premature Birth?

By Subodini Menon

As women go through the pregnancy, the health of their child is always on the forefront of their minds. Every aspect of a pregnant woman's life is spent in making sure that the pregnancy goes on smoothly and that it ends with a completely healthy baby in their arms.

But not every new mom is lucky to have a normal birth. Many pregnant mothers go into labor before the 40 weeks of pregnancy is complete. A few decades ago, pre-term births meant the death of the baby and fatal risks for the mother.

what are the main causes for premature birth

Fortunately, science and medicine is so advanced today that a large majority of pre-term babies go on to have a perfectly normal and healthy life.

It is important to know the factors that can lead to pre-term labor. This can help prevent potential risks and can help you take precautions against premature birth. Today, we shall take a look at the most common causes of pre-term birth.

• Preeclampsia

It is said that more than 7 percent of pregnant mothers will develop preeclampsia during their pregnancy. It commonly develops after the 4th month or the 20th week. The characteristics of the condition are high protein levels and high blood pressure among many others. If these two symptoms are seen, the pregnant mother should be treated immediately. If the case is ignored, it can even lead to premature birth or death of the baby. It will also raise the risk of mortality in the mother too.

• HELLP

HELLP is characterized by a group of 3 conditions. These conditions together can cause premature birth. "H" stands for Hemolysis. Hemolysis is a condition where the red blood cells breakdown. "EL" stands for elevated liver enzymes. Here, the enzyme production and the function of the liver is increased. "LP" stands for low levels of platelets. Platelets are the cells that assist the clotting of blood. HELLP is a life-threatening condition too. But the good thing is that it is very rare and is seen in only 0.2 percent of all pregnancies.

• Abnormalities of the uterus and the cervix

In some mothers, the uterus starts to contract before the time for delivery arrives. This can cause premature birth. In some others, the uterus is of an abnormal shape or the cervix is unable to stay closed until the end of the duration of pregnancy. In these cases, the doctor may advise bed rest and medicines that will help to prolong the delivery as much as possible.

• Infections of the genitalia

If the pregnant mother contracts infections in her genitals, it can lead to premature birth. Bacterial vaginosis or BV is an infection that commonly is associated with pre-term labour. It can also lead to endometriosis in the mother after the birth is over.

• A history of premature birth

If you have experienced premature birth in your previous pregnancy, chances are that you will have to face it again in the present pregnancy. If you have had premature baby previously, you stand to have perinatal death or babies of low birth weight too. Talk to your doctor and he will advise you precautionary measures and drugs.

• Miscarriage

If you have had a miscarriage in the past, your risk of having a premature baby increases. The risks increase manifold if you lost your baby late into the pregnancy.

• Abortion

If you opted for an abortion in the past, you have a high chance of delivering a pre-term baby. The chances rise exponentially if you get pregnant within the six months of the abortion. The baby may also have to face restricted growth in the first few years of his/her life.

• Having multiple babies

If you are pregnant with twins or multiple babies, chances are that they may be born before their time. More than 60 percent of twins face premature birth. If you are to have triplets, the statistics rise to a 90 percent. You can expect twins to be born at 36 weeks. Triplets are mostly born on the 32nd week and quadruplets are born before they complete their 30th week in the uterus.

Regular checkups and a close watch of the doctor will help you have a comfortable and healthy labour.

• Family history

If you have a close family member who had to face premature baby, chances are that you too will have a premature labor. If you were a prematurely born baby, the risk of you delivering a premature baby too sky rockets. Let your doctor know about the history of premature birth even if he does not remember to ask.

• Genetics

It is seen that genes play a huge role in the duration of gestation. It is seen that women of the Black ethnicity give birth to a preemie 17 percent of the times, while the Caucasian women have only 10 percent of premature birth chances. If you are from a race that is predisposed to having premature babies, make sure that you are under the watchful care of your medical practitioner.

• The age of the mother

Age is a big factor when it comes to pre-term birth. It is seen that teen mothers aged 14 to 17 have the most chances of having a pre-term labor. The risk decreases for a teen mother who is 18 or 19. After the age of 35, the risks rise again; but women under the age of 39 can still have a normal birth if the pregnancy is planned carefully. The percentage of premature births rise exponentially after 40.

• Stress on the mother

It is not without reason that the pregnant women are asked to be stress free and happy all the time. Under stress, the body releases epinephrine and cortisol. These trigger the release of corticotropin-releasing hormone. This hormone, in turn increases the levels of prostaglandins and estriol.

These are the markers of premature birth. Panic-induced inflammation can also cause the body to be unable to support the pregnancy. All these can cause a pre-term labor. It is very important for a mother-to-be to have a strong support system.

• Very little gap between pregnancies

A pregnancy causes the body to lose a lot of nutrients. Breastfeeding also causes the body to become weak. The body needs to recover fully before it can undergo another pregnancy. The reproductive system also has to recover before it can efficiently support another baby. If a woman conceives soon after the first pregnancy, she may have to face pre-term birth. Any woman considering a second pregnancy must allow a gap of at least 18 months. This time period will allow your body to heal and restore its nutrients to the previous levels.

• Smoking, drinking and secondhand smoke

When pregnant, you must make lifestyle changes to make sure that your baby has the healthiest start in life. Habits like smoking and drinking are closely linked with pre-term labor. Secondhand smoking or inhaling the smoke from someone else is also a cause of premature labour. Therefore, lifestyle changes apply to your partner too.

Read more about: premature birth causes stress
Story first published: Saturday, May 5, 2018, 12:00 [IST]
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