Prematurely Born Babies Have Greater Health Risks

Each year, a half million American babies are born prematurely. Approximately one in nine births are premature, accounting for a large proportion of infant deaths. In fact, more babies die each year from causes related to prematurity than from any other single cause. Additionally, preemies often require extended special care or extended hospital stays, and they are particularly prone to long-term health problems. Unfortunately, prematurity rates are high in Shelby County, where 1,762 babies, (13 percent of newborns), are premature.1

Early births are problematic because premature babies have not had the same opportunity to develop fully in the womb. Even final weeks of pregnancy are a critical period of development, and babies depend on these last days and weeks in utero for healthy development.

Babies born early enter the world with a greater likelihood of health risks. The earlier a baby is born, the more likely he is to experience heightened risk. Since an average pregnancy is 40 weeks, a baby is considered to be premature if she is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. While "very" preterm babies are born at less than 32 weeks of pregnancy and "extremely preterm" babies are born less than 25 weeks of pregnancy, most premature births occur between 34 and 37 weeks of pregnancy.

In the short term, preemies are more likely to experience breathing problems, heart problems, brain problems, temperature control problems, gastrointestinal problems, blood problems, metabolism problems, and immune system problems. After proper hospitalization and extended specialized care, a prematurely born baby is still at risk for long term problems, including cerebral palsy, impaired cognitive development, vision problems, hearing problems, dental problems, behavioral and psychological problems, and chronic health issues.

  1. The Urban Child Institute. (2012). Data Book 2012: The State of Children in Memphis and Shelby County. Available here.
  2. The Mayo Clinic. (2011). "Premature Birth." Accessed April 12, 2013. Available here.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.(2013). "National Prematurity Awareness Month." Accessed April 12, 2013. Available here.