The Causes and Complications of Premature Births

Premature births occur when babies are born before the 37 th week of a woman's pregnancy. These babies, who are referred to as preemies, are often at risk for suffering from several health problems - and in some extreme cases, being born prematurely can lead to a child's death.

Causes of Premature Births

According to the March of Dimes, it is not fully understood why some babies are born before reaching their full term, but there are some common risks factors that have been identified. Some variables that increase the risk of a woman delivering a premature baby include:

  • Smoking
  • Using illegal drugs
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Not having a social support system to help with the pregnancy
  • Being the victim of domestic abuse (physical, emotional or sexual)
  • Not having health insurance or adequate prenatal care

The Health Complications Premature Babies Face

Babies who are born prematurely can face several serious health problems. Some of the medical conditions that preemies can develop include:

  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome - occurs when a child's lungs cannot collapse and irregular breathing results
  • Pneumonia - an infection of the lung area that causes inflammation and difficulty breathing
  • Jaundice - a condition that makes a child's skin look yellow after substances have built up in the baby's bloodstream
  • Anemia - occurs when the baby has a lower-than-normal amount of red blood cells
  • Sepsis - the result of bacteria entering the baby's blood stream
  • Necrotizing Enterocolitis - a condition caused when the blood does not flow properly in the child's intestine

National Prematurity Awareness Month

Because premature birth is one of the leading causes of infant deaths in the United States, every November the March of Dimes spends the month educating the public about the problems that premature babies face. During this time, the association organizes campaigns that are designed to get the word out about premature births and the risk factors that are associated with them.