Preterm birth occurs before completing 37 weeks of pregnancy and is the number one cause of newborn deaths and second leading cause of deaths in children under five. Preterm babies are at the increased risk of illness, disability, and death. There are subcategories of Preterm birth, based on gestational age
- Extremely preterm (28 weeks)
- Very preterm (28 to 32 weeks)
- Moderate to late preterm (32 to 37 weeks)
Induction or caesarean birth should not be planned before 39 completed weeks unless medically indicated.
An estimated 15 million babies are born too early every year. That is more than 1 in 10 babies. Almost 1 million children die each year due to complications of preterm birth. Many survivors face a lifetime of disability, including learning disabilities and visual and hearing problems.
Globally prematurity is the leading cause of death in children under the age of 5. And in almost all countries with reliable data, preterm birth rates are increasing.
Inequalities in survival rates around the world are stark. In low-income settings, half of the babies born at or below 32 weeks (2 months early) die due to a lack of feasible, cost-effective care, such as warmth, breastfeeding support, and basic care for infections and breathing difficulties. In high-income countries, almost all of these babies survive.
More than three-quarters of premature babies can be saved with feasible, cost -effective care. During childbirth, essential care has to be taken. In the postnatal period for every mother and baby, antenatal steroid injections, kangaroo mother care (the baby is carried by the mother with skin to skin contact and frequent breastfeeding) and antibiotics to treat newborn infections.
To help reduce preterm birth rates, women need to be improved care before, between and during pregnancies. Better access to contraceptives and increased empowerment could also help reduce preterm births.
Why Does Preterm Birth Happen?
Preterm birth occurs for a variety of reasons. Most preterm births happen spontaneously, but some are due to early induction of labour or caesarean birth, whether for medical or non-medical reasons.
Common causes of preterm birth include multiple pregnancies, infections and chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure; however, often no cause is identified. There could also be a genetic influence. A better understanding of the causes and mechanisms will advance the development of solutions to prevent preterm birth.
When and Where Does Preterm Birth Happen?
More than 60% of preterm births occur in Africa and South Asia, but preterm birth is truly a global problem. In the lower-income countries, on average, 12% of babies are born too early compared with 9% in higher-income countries. Within countries, poorer families are at higher risk.
The 10 countries with the greatest number of preterm births
- India: 3,519,100
- China: 1,172,300
- Nigeria: 773,600
- Pakistan: 748,100
- Indonesia: 675,700
- United States of America: 517,400
- Bangladesh: 424,100
- The Philippines: 348,900
- The Democratic Republic of the Congo: 341,400
- Brazil: 279, 300