PARENT PICKLES: Get the facts on premature birth
PREMATURE birth is more common than many people realise, with about 8% of Australian babies considered to be premature.
Pregnancy usually lasts between 38 and 42 weeks, with the average pregnancy being 40 weeks. Any baby born before the 37-week gestational age is considered premature.
Babies born prematurely will not be as developed, but exactly how far along determines the extent of prematurity and, in turn, how much extra medical support they need.
Premature birth symptoms are the same as any other labour, except it's earlier than you expected.
These symptoms include dull lower backache, pressure on the pelvis, swelling of your hands and feet, more than four contractions an hour, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, eye disturbances, abdominal cramps, baby's movements slowing/stopping and fluid/blood coming out of your vagina.
It's important to note that while these symptoms are linked to labour, they're also linked to other conditions.
Either way, if you experience the symptoms, then you should consult a health professional such as your midwife, doctor or hospital, because it's important to see them as quickly as possible.
Lastly, if you don't feel right, even without symptoms, trust your instincts and consult your health professional.
Premature babies are looked after in the special care nursery, but if a baby is extremely premature and born within 28 weeks gestational age then they need to be cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit. These babies need help with breathing and require extra medical support.
If the baby is close to 37 weeks, they will appear to be a smaller version of a full-term baby, but as their gestational age decreases, their weight and size will also decrease.
At 24 weeks or less they will possibly fit snugly in your hand, appear to be exhausted, have fragile and translucent skin and their eyes may still be fused shut.
The good news is that 90% of premature babies survive and, as medical knowledge improves, that rate keeps increasing.
Survival is influenced greatly by how premature the baby is. After only 23 weeks the survival rate is closer to 50%, but it continues to improve with each week of gestation.
Even though the first few weeks are fragile, the majority of premature babies develop normally and those born late preterm generally have no serious health concerns.
While extremely premature babies (28 weeks or less) can have some risk of developmental problems, these usually are not severe.
HELP AT HAND
As always, if you have further questions about premature birth or any other health issue for your child, chat to your GP or visit our WBHHS child health team at the Margaret Rose Centre, 312 Bourbong St, Bundaberg. Alternatively, call your local WBHHS child health team on:
- Bundaberg - 4150 2700
- Childers - 4192 1133
- Gin Gin - 4157 2222
- Gayndah - 4161 3571
- Mundubbera - 4161 3571
- Monto - 4166 9300
- Biggenden - 4127 6400
- Eidsvold - 4165 7100
Even if you just want to have a chat and a bit of reassurance, the WBHHS child health team is here to help.