This is a collaborative post.
Compared with other mammals, human babies are born extremely early. While a giraffe might give birth to young that can walk within minutes, human babies are much less mature. This is largely a consequence of our large heads, and the brains that they house.
But some human babies are born early even by this standard. This is a problem that has significant effects on maternal health.
Understanding Premature Birth
For a baby to be considered premature, it needs to be born before the thirty-seventh week of pregnancy. Most preterm babies are born just shy of this threshold, but a few can be born much sooner.
Certain factors can raise the risk of this happening. In vitro fertilisation makes premature birth likelier. If you’ve miscarried, or had an abortion, or had one premature baby, then the risk is also higher.
Successive pregnancies are more likely to result in premature birth – and so, to minimise the risk, mothers might wish to wait for at least six months before getting pregnant again.
In some cases, a medical intervention might make a preterm birth necessary. If the mother or baby is in danger, then doctors might decide that a caesarean is warranted. For instance, preeclampsia can pose significant risks to both the mother and the baby, and it is frequently diagnosed late because its common symptoms, such as headaches or dizziness, may be overlooked. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for mothers to receive inappropriate advice or experience delays in the diagnosis of this condition. In this case, a medical negligence claim might be justified.
Certain parts of the world are likelier to suffer from preterm birth. In South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, it’s more common. This might naturally be a consequence of higher birth rates, or there might be inscrutable genetic factors at play.
Neonatal Health Challenges
So, what happens to preterm infants? They are at greater risk of infection, because their immune system isn’t yet developed. They might have difficulty breathing, because their lungs have not yet fully developed. Treatment with oxygen can typically remedy these problems.
In the long term, premature babies are at greater risk of suffering development delays. They might lag behind their peers when it comes to certain milestones, and be more likely to suffer learning difficulties. Cerebral palsy is also more common among premature babies.
Emotional and Mental Health Impact on Mothers
Mothers who give birth in these circumstances can often end up traumatised by them. Feelings of guilt and anxiety, though irrational, are widespread to the point of ubiquity. This all comes on top of the post-natal depression of which new mothers are at risk.
A lot of good can be done by simple social support systems and counselling. Charities like Bliss seek to provide this kind of support, and they’re well worth looking into.