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What causes a baby to be born prematurely?

Premature birth can be caused by many different things, including medical problems in the mom or the baby, as well as not getting enough fluids (dehydration). Your care provider would be your best resource about how common premature births are in your particular area.

More than four million babies are born in the United States each year and unfortunately, one in nine is delivered prematurely (prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy). Prematurity can be the result of either spontaneous preterm birth from spontaneous preterm labor or preterm premature rupture of the membranes. It can also be because of serious maternal or fetal complications, such as fetal growth restriction, hypertension, uncontrolled diabetes or preeclampsia.

There are many causes of premature birth, including but not limited to: Maternal anatomical factors, maternal substance abuse, maternal cigarette smoking, fetal illness or genetic conditions. In most cases, we do not know the exact cause of a particular mother's early delivery.

Genetics and risk factors can cause a baby to be born prematurely. For genetics, if you have a family history of delivering preterm infants, the odds of you delivering preterm are higher than average. Twins typically deliver sooner because of a lack of space. Factors that increase the risk of a premature delivery include any condition that would put stress on the baby. Smoking decreases the blood supply to the placenta, and oxygen starves the baby. Infection can also cause preterm births, especially intrauterine infections, which can easily spread to the baby or throughout the mother.

Over four million babies are born in the United States each year and unfortunately, one in nine is delivered prematurely (prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy). Prematurity can be the result of either spontaneous preterm birth from spontaneous preterm labor or premature rupture of the membranes (water breaking). It can also be caused by serious maternal or fetal complications, such as fetal growth restriction, hypertension, uncontrolled diabetes or pre-eclampsia.

Regardless of the reason for delivery, prematurity has significant impact with the risk for infant mortality as well as life-long medical complications. Further, preterm birth is the leading cause of childhood neurologic handicaps. Efforts have been underway for years to identify pregnancies at risk for preterm birth so that measures can be taken to avoid premature delivery.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.