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Born Too Soon

Premature Birth Information

Babies born premature (before 37 weeks in a pregnancy) are at risk for serious health problems. Sometimes babies born too soon suffer so many health problems that their chances for survival are greatly reduced.

Two of the most serious problems that premature babies may experience include respiratory distress syndrome and bleeding in the brain. These problems mainly affect babies born before 34 weeks, but even babies born closer to 38 weeks can be harmed by complications of prematurity.

When a baby weighs less and has underdeveloped organs, he/she is more likely to need special hospital care in a neonatal intensive care unit. These babies also may have a higher risk for problems with vision and hearing, lung and feeding problems and even cerebral palsy and retardation. Sometimes the disabilities are mild and other times they are serious. Prematurity is the leading cause of death in the first month of life. Premature babies who survive may have ongoing problems with infections and need special feeding and breathing care.

How Often Does Premature Birth Happen?

  • The rate of premature birth increased 29 percent in the United States between 1981 and 2002 (9.4 percent to 12.1 percent).
  • In an average week in Illinois, 3,358 babies are born and 430 of them are born too soon.

Why Does Preterm Birth Occur?

Researchers continue to look for reasons. Some women are known to be more at risk for premature delivery: those with a previous premature delivery, those with certain uterine or cervical problems and those with multiple births (twins, triplets or more).

Some studies have found certain lifestyle and medical factors may put a woman at greater risk of early labor. Smoking and using alcohol or drugs, work or life stress and partner abuse are risk factors.

Women are more at risk if they have infections, bleeding, diabetes and high blood pressure. Being underweight or overweight or being pregnant closer than 6 to 9 months apart can also be risk factors. Women are encouraged to have good dental care. Dental problems can lead to preterm labor. Douching should be stopped as it increases the risk of vaginal infection and may lead to preterm labor.

What Can You Do to Reduce Your Chances of Delivering Too Early?

See a doctor or midwife early and regularly during pregnancy. Ask questions about your health and your baby’s growth and health.

  • Avoid alcohol, smoking and drugs
  • Be patient, don’t ask to be delivered early - your baby may need to develop longer. The “due date” covers about a three-week time frame in which most babies are likely to be born healthy. Some babies born just a little early can have feeding, breathing and behavior problems.
  • Ask if your baby’s lungs are ready for breathing before a caesarean section or being induced before your due date. Special tests can help determine if the baby’s lungs are ready for breathing on their own.

Be sure to talk to your health care provider about your risks and what you can do to have a health baby.

For further information, contact the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Perinatal Program at 217-785-4540.


IDPH Online Home
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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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