Updated October 2013
Explaining premature birth
If your baby is born early - also called 'premature' or 'preterm' - he may need special care.
The definition of a 'premature' or 'preterm' baby is one that is born before 37 and after 24 full weeks after the first day of the
mother's last period. There are different levels of prematurity and these carry their own risks. Very premature babies, born before week 26, are at most risk and are sometimes known as micro preemies. A baby born at 37 weeks or more is known as a 'term' baby. Generally the earlier your baby is born the higher the risk of health problems. Find out more about reducing the risk factors of premature birth.
Causes of premature birth
We still have a lot to learn about premature birth so it's not always possible to explain the causes and why it happens. Factors such as infection can result in prematurely born babies but it is often more complicated than one single reason. This is partly why prevention of premature birth is still in need of extensive research - without knowing the causes, a treatment is difficult.
Prematurity affects about 8% of all births. Most are between 32 and 36 weeks, but about 2% happen before 32 weeks.
Premature birth rarely happens because of one single thing - often it is caused by a combination of different complex factors. The pages below tell you more about the known causes of premature birth. In our research section you can also learn more about preterm birth and its possible causes.
Many mothers of premature babies told us they suffer from feelings of terrible guilt, wondering what they did wrong and if they are to blame. The truth is that in the vast majority of cases there is nothing you could have done to prevent premature birth.
In this section
The causes and problems of premature birth:
Your premature baby:
You can also read about
World Health Organisation, Preterm birth fact sheet, Geneva WHO, 2012 (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs363/en/)
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Preterm birth and labour, guidance in development final scope, London NICE, 2013 (http://guidance.nice.org.uk/CG/Wave0/660/Scoping)