I have been planning on writing about prematurity for several weeks now. This theme is very important when planning and preparing for the arrival of a baby. Anyone can have a premature baby as no one knows how pregnancy will end, how childbirth will go, and when the baby will be delivered.
In this article:
- The main causes of premature childbirth
- The differences between term and premature childbirth
- What should I expect if the baby is in the neonatal unit? (French only)
- Attachment and prematurity
In general, prenatal classes and pregnancy appointments don’t prepare parents for a premature baby. You will learn about warning signs for labour, but you will learn little about experiencing premature childbirth, the care a premature baby needs, and the impacts it can have on the parents and family.
When parents are faced with this situation, they feel lost and stressed. There are so many unknowns, few benchmarks, even if they have already given birth in the past. For most parents who have experienced having a premature baby, the birth of their child may have been a horror story, horrible, an incredible drama in their life.
Today, couples do not have as many children, and often they have them later in life. They want parenthood to be a part of their success in life. As such, pregnancy is often idealised, and there is little space for thinking about things like complications for the mother or baby. The couple prepares for a dream pregnancy, nine months of mom glowing and then giving birth naturally to a big, healthy baby. Childbirth is seen as a happy event.
As the pregnancy progresses through the three trimesters, the parents begin preparing for the arrival of the baby. But what if the baby arrives three months before the expected date? Parent’s won’t have the same kind of psychological preparedness as those make it to 37 weeks or later. Each stage during the 40-week gestational period is a process leading to childbirth, and a premature baby changes everything for the parents. The pregnancy may seem uncompleted, the mother’s stomach may not have left the pelvis, the baby may have only just started moving. Their bedroom may not be ready, and after delivery, the baby is whisked away from the parents.
If the pregnancy had already been identified as at risk, some parents might be better prepared than others for a premature baby. On the contrary, some will have never even dreamed about this happening. They will be in shock faced with these unexpected events. Around 7-8% of babies will be born before term, which represents, in Quebec alone, about 6,500 children a year.
A baby that is born prematurely will not necessarily have difficulties. It depends on many factors. There are premature, very premature and extremely premature babies. Gestational age, the weeks of pregnancy, when talking about term versus premature childbirth, are:
- For term childbirth, between 37-42 weeks of pregnancy
- Premature childbirth, before 37 weeks of pregnancy
Since we know that the pregnancy age is an essential factor for the maturity and development of the baby in utero, the missing weeks of pregnancy will have different impacts. That said, a 24-week baby and a 35-week baby are both premature, but the risks and impacts are different for both.
Generally speaking in neonatology terms:
- Extremely premature babies (or extreme prematurity) are born before 28 weeks
- Very premature babies are born between 29-32 weeks
- Premature babies are born between 32-37 weeks
A new category has recently appeared in the literature, know as late preterm, for babies born between 34-37 weeks, which is the largest group of premature babies.
To learn about the causes of premature childbirth, go to The Main Causes of Premature Childbirth.