Delivering prematurely shortens developmental time, and so is a significant concern for every mom. A baby is considered full-term once he or she has reached 39 weeks’ gestation, and those born significantly earlier may need to be hospitalized for extended care in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and could be more susceptible to certain diseases and infections later in life.
The exact cause of premature labor is unknown, but there are certain factors that contribute, such as:
- Behavioral and psychosocial factors: A smart diet, exercise regimen, and generally favorable lifestyle all contribute to a healthy and full-term pregnancy. Chronic stress or traumatic events can cause premature labor.
- Environmental factors: Exposure to pollutants or contaminated water are very harmful to development.
- Medical conditions: Preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, asthma, and heart disease might require induced preterm labor.
- Infertility treatments: Women who used IVF have about a 53% greater risk of delivering early than those who don’t, and this discrepancy is linked to the hormone stimulation and mechanical procedures utilized in IVF.
- Genetic factors: There is a strong connection between transgenerational preterm labor, meaning you are more likely to deliver early if other women in your family have.
- Short cervix: Women with short cervices are more likely to go into labor early, but may be treated with medicine or a cerclage to help prevent it
Children born prematurely are not guaranteed to have developmental issues as they grow up, but some of the common afflictions include:
- Cerebral palsy: About 50% of children with cerebral palsy were born prematurely, and this link is due to developmental issues that contribute to the disease, like damage to the brain’s white matter.
- Autism: The chance of developing autism is linked to the earliness of delivery and is due to factors such as low birth weight, intrauterine infection during pregnancy, and infants’ brain damage.
- Epilepsy: Premature birth can cause epilepsy during childhood or later in life, since preemies are more susceptible to bleeding in the brain.
- Learning disabilities: These include issues relating to hand-eye coordination, comprehension, memory, and behavior. They can’t always be diagnosed early on and occur in only 10% of premature babies, so don’t be overly concerned about your child’s progress too soon.
But what if you’re carrying multiples?
Those above items might sound like cause for concern, but keep in mind that if you’re carrying multiples, the timeline for term development is a little different. Though a baby being carried to “full-term” in a singleton pregnancy generally means around 39 to 40 weeks, full-term for most twin pregnancies is considered to be between 37 to 38 weeks. And even if multiples hit this full-term marker a bit sooner than singletons, many twin pregnancies will lead to a delivery that’s earlier than 37 weeks. But amazingly enough, there is some evidence to suggest that multiples’ lungs develop more quickly than singletons’ lungs, so multiples are more ready to breathe on their own after these early deliveries than a singleton might be at the same gestational age. And moms carrying multiples often receive some extra prenatal care as a pregnancy progresses, since carrying multiples can mean an increased risk of complications. So if you’re carrying multiples, you and your babies are likely in good hands with your healthcare provider and getting some extra attention to keep you all healthy.