A preterm birth can be terrifying or even fatal for the baby, if it happens very early. Preterm birth, also known as premature birth, is defined as babies born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed.

Depending on how early a baby is born, preterm births are divided into three sub-categories:

  • extremely preterm (<28 weeks)
  • very preterm (28 to <32 weeks)
  • moderate to late preterm (32 to <37 weeks).

As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), induction or caesarean birth should not be planned before 39 completed weeks unless medically indicated.

Although the specific cause of premature birth is unclear, certain factors, including lifestyle, medical or non-medical conditions, genetic, age, may increase the risk of premature birth. These include:

  • Being pregnant with twins, triplets or other multiples
  • Being overweight or underweight
  • Multiple miscarriages or abortions
  • Vaginal infections
  • Problems with the uterus, cervix or placenta
  • Conceiving through in vitro fertilization (IVF)
  • Having a previous premature birth
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Preeclampsia
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol abuse, especially during pregnancy
  • Age – if you are younger than 17 or older than 35
  • Psychological stress

Premature birth can happen to anyone, but for unknown reasons, black women are more at risk than are women of other races. There could also be a genetic influence. However, better understanding of the causes and mechanisms can help advance the development of solutions to prevent preterm birth.