Montevideo, 15 November 2019 (PAHO/WHO-CLAP) – A baby is considered premature if they are born before 37 weeks of gestation. Premature babies arrive without having developed completely in-utero, which makes them more vulnerable to complications than those who are born full-term. Not all premature babies are at risk, but when complications do occur, they are among the leading causes of death in children under the age of 5 and can cause physical, neurological and learning disabilities that have lifelong consequences.
“Being born prematurely means that the child isn’t fully prepared for life outside the uterus. They may require support to stay warm, to feed and to breath,” says Pablo Duran, regional advisor for perinatal health at the Pan American Health Organization´s (PAHO) Latin American Center of Perinatology, Women and Reproductive Health (CLAP, for its acronym in Spanish).
Many of the causes of prematurity are already known. Risk factors include:
- a previous premature birth
- being pregnant with multiples
- adolescent pregnancy
- some chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes or infections
- smoking, drinking alcohol, drug use, and stress
However, simple, low-cost, effective measures exist that have been shown to reduce deaths and complications associated with prematurity by three quarters. These measures range from feeding the baby with breastmilk to providing care in temperature-regulated environments, ensuring quality, evidence-based care, including the timely detection of health-related complications, and ensuring follow-up during hospitalization and after discharge.
Maternal care and quality health care are essential for the development of all babies, but especially those who are premature.