Children's Hospital Colorado
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Prematurity

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What is prematurity?

A baby takes about 9 months (40 weeks) to develop in the womb. Babies who stay in the womb for this amount of time are referred to as term or full-term babies. A baby who is born before 37 weeks in the pregnancy is considered preterm or premature. Babies born between 34 weeks and 37 weeks are considered late preterm (previously referred to as near-term infants).

Approximately 10% of babies are born prematurely. Babies who are born early are commonly called “premature babies,” “preemies” or “preterm babies.” Medically speaking, premature infants may also be referred to as:

  • Low birth weight (LBW), which is a term to define a baby who is born weighing less than 2500 grams (5 pounds, 4 ounces)
  • Very low birth weight (VLBW), which is a term to define a baby who is born weighing less than 1500 grams (3 pounds, 4 ounces)
  • Extremely low birth weight (ELBW), which is a term to define a baby who is born weighing less than 1000 grams (2 pounds, 3 ounces)

At Children’s Hospital Colorado, experts in our nationally recognized Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) care for babies with low and very low birthweight and infants with special medical needs and very rare neonatal conditions.

What causes prematurity?

Prematurity can happen without reason. The following factors may increase the risk of prematurity:

  • Moms who had a previous preterm baby
  • Having more than one baby in your pregnancy
  • Previous medical problems with your uterus or cervix
  • Moms who are younger than 17 or older than 35 years of age

Are there any health conditions that could lead to premature labor?

Some medical conditions can increase the risk of premature labor. These conditions include diabetes, high blood pressure and preeclampsia.

Is there anything I can do to prevent premature labor?

While nothing can completely prevent premature labor, there are several things you can do to ensure the healthiest pregnancy possible:

  • Avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, using street drugs or abusing prescription drugs.
  • Decrease exposures to chemicals, radiation, lead and air pollution.
  • Work with your doctor to treat any chronic medical conditions you have.
  • Prevent infections by washing your hands frequently and avoiding people who are ill.
  • Eat healthy foods and stay active.
  • Wait at least 18 months before having another baby.

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