Last updated September 2011. Planned review date: September 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. A baby born at 37 weeks or more is known as a 'term' baby. There are different levels of prematurity and these carry their own risks. Generally the the earlier your baby is born the higher the risk of health problems.
We still have a lot of learn about premature birth so it's not always possible to explain why it happens. In about 40 percent of cases, the woman's labour is triggered by an 'unknown cause'.
Premature birth rarely happens because of one single thing - often it is caused by a combination of different complex factors.
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
Explaining premature birth:
Your premature baby:
You can also read about
Norman JE, Greer IA (2005) Preterm labour: managing risk in clinical practice, Cambridge University Press
Tucker J, McGuire W (2004) Epidemiology of preterm birth, British Medical Journal, 18; Vol 329, No 7467, p675-8
BAPM (2008) Management of acute in-utero transfers: a framework for practice. London, British Association of Perinatal Medicine