The average full term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. If a baby is delivered before 37 weeks, it is called a preterm or premature birth and the newborn is often referred to as a “preemie.” If a baby is born before 26 weeks gestation, he or she will likely have serious permanent injuries. Any delivery that happens before 32 weeks can cause the newborn to have breathing problems because the baby’s lungs do not mature until around the 32nd to 34th week of gestation. Because the infant’s lungs haven’t fully matured before the 32nd week, the baby can suffer from hypoxia or lack of oxygen to the brain that can lead to permanent brain damage or cerebral palsy. The longer a baby can stay in the mother’s uterus and grow or mature, the lower the risk of brain injury and birth defects.
Some of the more common causes of a premature birth are:
- A previous preterm or premature delivery
- Multiple pregnancies or carrying multiples (twins, triplets or more)
- Uterine problems such as an infection, chorioamnionitis, placental abruption, bicornate uterus, uterine scarring or abdominal trauma
- Incompetent cervix
- Thin cervix
- High blood pressure, pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH), pre-eclampsia or eclampsia
- Diabetes or gestational diabetes
- Cigarette smoking or nicotine replacement patches, gum or lozenges
- Alcohol consumption
- Maternal age if under 18 or over 30
- Poor prenatal care or no prenatal care
- Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiencies
- Low body mass index
- Untreated urinary tract infections
- Group B strep infections
If a mother is known to have an incompetent cervix or a cervix that causes premature dilation or opening of the cervix, the doctor may place something called a cerclage. A cerclage is a tiny suture or stitch placed in the cervix to help keep it closed until you reach a part in your pregnancy when it is safer to deliver your baby.
If you should happen to go into premature labor, you may be placed on bedrest and given intravenous (IV) fluids to see if it stops the labor. Of course, you should also be treated for any infection you or the baby may have. In addition, you may be given terbutaline, Brethine or other medications known as tocolytics to help stop your contractions and cervical dilation. If your doctor feels that a premature birth is imminent or you are going to have a precipitous delivery or birth, you may also be given steroid injections such as Betamethasone, to help mature your baby’s lungs.
Doctors, obstetricians or nurse midwives should do everything they can to prevent or treat a premature birth. If not, your baby can be born with breathing problems, an intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH) or bleeding on the brain, intestinal problems, organ damage, sepsis, infection, a high bilirubin, jaundice, kernicterus, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) or blindness, deafness from antibiotics such as Gentamycin, hyaline membrane disease (HMD), respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), brain damage, mental retardation, low glucose or blood sugar levels, developmental delays, neurologic injuries, developmental delays, learning disabilities, milestone delays or cerebral palsy.
If you went into preterm labor or had a premature birth and your baby now has permanent injuries, brain damage, cerebral palsy or developmental delays, please feel free to contact one of our experienced birth injury lawyers, doctors or nurses at 1.888.823.5291. Our knowledgeable premature birth team consists of attorneys, physicians, labor and delivery nurses, emergency room nurses and neonatal intensive care (NICU) nurses who have actually cared for and treated women who presented in premature labor or had delivered a premature baby. Our medical experience and knowledge has led to us obtaining two of the largest medical malpractice verdicts in Pennsylvania history.