When Baby Comes Early

A baby is defined as premature if it is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies that are born early usually need help, an experience which can be distressing for parents. Unfortunately, preterm birth is common, with the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating around 15 million babies are born early every year.

Across the world, approximately 5-18% of all babies are born prematurely. Up to 35% of neonatal deaths are due to prematurity in both developed and developing countries. This statistic is a global problem (63). Our increased knowledge of baby’s needs has resulted in premature babies having a high chance of surviving and developing without any long-term problems.

However, we still don’t know why some women labour too early. Researchers around the world are starting to pull together to tackle this potentially devastating complication.

The outlook for a preterm baby is affected by:

  • How many weeks he is when he’s born – the higher number of weeks, the better his chances.
  • How big baby is – bigger babies usually have a better chance if they are healthy in other ways
  • If the baby has any birth abnormality
  • The availability of specialist care (a Special care nursery or NICU)

Signs of premature labour

  • Regular contractions or painful tightening of your abdomen,
  • Pain in your lower back that comes in surges
  • Severe abdomen pain
  • Period-like pain and cramping
  • Bleeding
  • Waters breaking
  • Increased water or change in discharge from the vagina
  • Pressure in your vagina or bottom (64)

If you have started premature labour, it may be possible to slow down or even stop your contractions. Drugs that stop your contractions may give your baby more time on the inside. You may also be offered drugs that will help your baby’s lungs mature faster in case he is born, or to help protect his brain if he is early.

There are many different reasons for birth occurring prematurely, including (65);

  • Stress
  • Substance misuse and abuse
  • Poverty
  • Age (under 18, over 35)
  • Race
  • Previous history of premature labour
  • Car accidents
  • Infection
  • Injury to the abdomen
  • Illness (such as pre-eclampsia)
  • Placental problems
  • Cervix problems
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Multiple pregnancies

There are many other reasons that this can occur and for some women, we will never know what caused them to birth earlier than expected. If your baby arrives early or is too sick to cope on their own, you may not be able to take her home with you. If this is the case for you, your baby will need to spend some time in the special care nursery.

For further information and support, please click the links below:


Miracle Babies

L’il Aussie Prems Foundation

Nikki-Lee Rossiter (BMid) Registered Midwife
Photo by Jonny Essex used under license from